The Business Of Marijuana in Michigan
Many have high hopes for Michigan’s budding industry.
Michigan’s “green rush” is officially on. Legalized medical marijuana laws have opened the gateways to a multibillion-dollar industry promising to create economic growth across the state, and interested entrepreneurs are eager to stake their claim.
In the eyes of an increasing number of industry analysts, cannabis has already become too big to fail. Up nearly 26 percent since 2015, it’s one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., according to ArcView Group Cannabis Investment & Market Research, and medical marijuana alone could reach a net worth of $5 billion annually by 2020.
By that same year, economists predict the legal marijuana industry could generate up to $556 million annually for the state of Michigan. “It can generate significant revenue and jobs,” said Dr. Gary Wolfram, a professor of economics and public policy at Hillsdale College. “It will create a robust marketplace that will provide a positive economic impact.”
As it stands now, each city in the state can determine whether it will award medical marijuana licenses for businesses in its jurisdiction. There is a $6,000 fee required with the license application, along with a stringent list of qualifications applicants must meet. Cities like Troy, Ferndale, Waterford, Hazel Park, Warren, Harrison Township and Harper Woods are currently in the process of deciding which businesses they will allow. Ordinances are expected to pass early this year.
CHANGING FACE OF
With the huge influx of opportunities within the lucrative cannabis industry, many are entering the arena in need of professional guidance to follow the stricter state and municipal regulatory laws that ultimately help to legitimize the industry.
“This industry isn’t full of Cheech and Chong-type stoners or something out of Reefer Madness. There’s a solid credibility to the new cannabis businesses that we didn’t see in the past,” says Mort Meisner, CEO of GROW Cannabis Marketing firm in Royal Oak.
“There are many extremely experienced business-minded people who want to comply with the laws and are passionate about what they’re bringing to their communities in the way of health and financial benefits.”
Ganja-preneurs, or people investing money in the industry, are developing businesses that will be licensed under the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licenses Act (MMFLA) that creates a system for the licensing, regulation and tracking of all medical marijuana in Michigan.
The business categories are: grower; processor (extraction/manufacturing); provisioning center (dispensary); secure transportation; and safety compliance facility (independent testing laboratory). Since December 2017, the state of Michigan has accepted applications for these licenses and is creating an entirely new administrative agency under LARA (Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs) to ensure public safety.
Florida-based company Franwell will run Michigan’s software program METRC (Marijuana Enforcement, Tracking, Reporting and Compliance) for seed-to-sale tracking. “All products will be traceable back to the grower and the plant from which they are sourced, to handle issues involving product safety, compliance standards and recalls,” said Scott Denholm, executive director of METRC.
A very personal side to medical marijuana has changed the opinion of the industry for many.
Seeing medical success stories firsthand like the one of 8-year-old Bella of Grand Blanc, who suffers from a genetic disorder that causes constant seizures, has had a big affect.
“Bella’s mother took her to the top pediatric neurologists at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, but nothing could stop her seizures,” Meisner said. “They read about a successful treatment using medical marijuana containing cannabidiol, or CBD, that quiets the electrical activity in the brain and got a doctor from Detroit to prescribe it.
“It worked and gave the little girl her life back, just like it does for so many others. It’s hard to turn your back on an industry that can safely help people, including young children suffering so much.”
Current medical marijuana laws allow prescribed usage for seizures, cancer, glaucoma, chronic pain, muscle spasms and atrophy, HIV/AIDS and severe nausea. You must get qualified by your doctor and apply for a card with the Michigan Medical Marijuana Program before you can purchase any form of marijuana.
GREEN DREAM TEAM HELPS LEGITIMIZE THE INDUSTRY
A growing group of topnotch professionals across the country, including Michigan, are providing their legal and business acumen to promote successful, legitimate canna-businesses.
Meisner, a 30-year veteran in public relations and a national media agent, and his partner, 24-year-old son Mark, who holds an MBA from Niagara University, own and head up GROW Cannabis Marketing, providing cannabis business services that include PR, marketing, brand management and development, web development, video production, social media, graphic and logo design, crisis management, packaging and more.
“I also work together with a team that includes the best attorneys, financial advisers, real estate agents and HR specialists to assist the business people in the cannabis industry who want to do it the right way,” Meisner said. “We wouldn’t lay our own good reputations on the line unless we were absolutely convinced that medical marijuana will continue to be legitimized and provide benefits to many who need it.”
Attorney Barton Morris is founder of the Cannabis Legal Group in Royal Oak, specializing in all marijuana-related legal issues including business law, licensing, consulting, land use and real property. Morris is well known as one of the top accredited cannabis lawyers in Michigan and Dbusiness Magazine also named the Cannabis Legal Group the “Face of Cannabis Law” for 2016 and 2017.
“I developed a marijuana law specialty through the training I received becoming the only attorney in Michigan certified by the American Chemical Society as a forensic lawyer-scientist maintaining a focus on marijuana,” Morris said. “Our law firm is highly experienced regarding medical marijuana from the ground level on up — navigating the legal process to get licensed in the five main cannabis business categories, staying current with the ever-changing legislation, determining eligibility for licensing and making certain all cannabis business practices are followed according to Michigan laws.”
Partner Craig Aronoff, senior attorney with the Cannabis Legal Group, provides canna-businesses expertise in areas that include real estate acquisitions or tenancy, and the process of pre-qualifying of property for your business that can be more difficult and burdensome than in any other commercial industry.
“But, more importantly, we know every facet of the industry and can marry the talents of all of the players or parties from growers to retailers or venture capitalists and cover all of the legalities needed to do business within this new area of law,” Aronoff said.
Proper insurance coverage is another essential part of any canna-business. Bricks + Mortar Group, an independent insurance and real estate agency in Berkley, is one of the few agencies to have a cannabis specialty. “Not a lot of insurance agents
understand the state mandates that need to be addressed in cannabis insurance policies,” said managing partner Amanda Kugler. “And as an independent real estate agency, we can assist in buying or selling property for a canna-business.
“Bricks + Mortar Group underwrites policies for the most important thing — product liability, as well as coverage for property, crops, automobile and workers’ compensation,” Krugler added.
Marijuana safety compliance is mandatory by the MMFLA, and Iron Laboratories, based in Walled Lake, is the premier medicinal and recreational testing facility for both Michigan and Oregon to regulate safety.
“Testing labs for marijuana must be ISO 17025-accredited as Iron Labs is,” said president Ron Teitel. “It feels good knowing we are testing the product for things like pesticides, fungus, mold and insects, and making sure we know the cannabinoid potencies and compounds being produced because they are used differently depending on the need.”
As with any start-up business, it’s hard to juggle the business administration on top of all the other duties, and a canna-business is no different. Anthony Sabatella, owner of THC 1-2-3 in Sterling Heights, said, “We specialize in providing one-stop business administration solutions for the medical marijuana industry, such as payroll, insurance and benefits management, compliance solutions and staffing for every position in the industry.”
COMING OUT OF THE SHADOWS
The legitimate dispensary owners in Michigan are also pleased with the new, stricter licensing to operate a regulated facility.
“We can have a credibility we didn’t see before and serve patients so they don’t have to turn to the black market or dangerous drugs like opioids to help them,” said Jerry Millen, owner of Green House dispensary in Walled Lake, opening soon.
Tim Campbell, owner of The Reef dispensary in Detroit, currently servicing 11,000 people with medical marijuana cards, agrees. “And we’re doing everything to be compliant with the licensing board and LARA to show that we’re doing the right thing,” he said.
The image of future dispensaries is a far cry from some of the facilities of the past that conjure up visions of rundown buildings with bars on the windows.
“I toured some of the state-of-the-art dispensaries out West and in Arizona, and it’s the same feeling as walking into a new Apple store. They’re brightly lit and completely contemporary,” said Mark Meisner. “They have the look of a retail establishment you’d like to visit. The goal is to have a business you could bring anyone into, whether your kids or even your grandmother.”
MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN MICHIGAN
State boards have created a new map to follow for medical marijuana patients, caregivers, advocates, investors and operators — finally bringing clarity and control to an industry that battled some controversy.
There are economic benefits to the state as the new regulatory system is expected to generate upwards of $50 million in new excise and sales tax revenues alone, while employing tens of thousands of Michigan residents.
And for patients needing aid from medical marijuana, there is increasing community and political support as well.
“We can finally implement a solid framework that gives patients a safe source from which to purchase and utilize medical marijuana,” said Gov. Rick Snyder.
“This new legislation will help Michiganders of all ages and with varying medical conditions, access safe products to relieve their
Susan Peck Special to the Jewish News
“No Impact” From AG Sessions’ Memo
On Jan. 4, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo directed to U.S. attorneys rescinding the Obama-era policy that took a “hands-off’ federal government approach to states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal, such as Michigan, which legalized medical marijuana in 2008.
Sessions’ memo opens the door for U.S. attorneys to prosecute marijuana users and growers in those states, although few people believe that will happen.
“Constitutionally, the federal government has the power to preempt state laws regarding marijuana, allowing them to go after marijuana users and growers,” according to constitutional law expert Robert Sedler, a professor at Wayne State University. “However, politically,” he added, “I can’t imagine U.S. attorneys going after medical marijuana users. It (Sessions’ memo) appears to be more for show than anything else.”
In a statement provided to the Detroit News, interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Matthew Schneider said his top priorities include combatting violent crime, gangs, corruption and terrorism. “This office will review marijuana cases in terms of where those cases fit within our priorities and our limited federal resources,” he said.
Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, told the Detroit News that the move is unlikely to impact state enforcement. “We will continue to enforce the Michigan medical marijuana statute, specifically related to large-scale violations,” she said, adding that state prosecutors usually focus on illegal traffickers, not individual users.
Democrat Dana Nessel of Plymouth Township, who is campaigning to be the next Michigan attorney general, said, “The war on marijuana has proven to be a waste of time and money … It is absolutely a gross display of federal overreach for Sessions to subvert states’ rights and return to failed policies that harm families, fill prisons with non-violent people, cost states billions of dollars they don’t have to spare, and do nothing to combat the real drug epidemic facing this nation.”
Also running for the AG post is Republican State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, who said, “As attorney general, I would enforce state law and, with the Justice Department charged with handling terrorism, immigration, corruption, civil rights and other matters, I would hope medicinal use of marijuana would not be a priority.
“The federal government has been inconsistent about enforcement for many years and should decide on a clear and consistent standard,” she added. “I believe the people of Michigan should decide what is best for Michigan.”
Democratic AG candidate Pat Miles of Grand Rapids, also a former U.S. attorney under President Barack
Obama, says, “This decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions is an enormous step backward and totally disrespects the will of the people of Michigan.”
He added that, if elected, he “would not cooperate with the Trump Administration in going after people who are operating in
accord with what the people of Michigan have decided is legal.”
Republican State House Speaker Tom Leonard of DeWitt, also vying for the AG job, said, “I believe Attorney General Jeff
Sessions is wrong on this issue and needs to back down and leave this issue alone. This is a states’ rights issue to me, and Michigan’s voters have spoken clearly on this matter.”
Last year, Michigan lawmakers approved new regulations allowing dispensaries and other medical pot businesses in communities that want them. Also, a group who wants to make recreational pot legal in Michigan gathered 365,000 signatures and submitted them to the state late last year with the hope of putting the issue on the statewide ballot in November 2018.
Jackie Headapohl Managing Editor
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Grow Cannabis Marketing
322 E. Lincoln Ave.
Royal Oak, MI 48067
Cannabis Legal Group
520 N. Main St.
Royal Oak, MI 48067
Bricks + Mortar Group
2769 Coolidge Hwy., Suite 100
Berkley, MI 48072
1825 E. West Maple
Walled Lake, MI 48390
Green Solutions HR
13854 Lakeside Circle
Sterling Heights, MI 48313
Green House Dispensary
103 E. Walled Lake Drive
Walled Lake, MI 48390
The Reef Dispensary
6640 E. 8 Mile Road,
Detroit, MI 48234