Last Wednesday Michigan moved up the start of recreational cannabis sales by a full month. While originally slated to start sales in April or March of 2020, Lansing pushed it up to January 1st. Now, as of Wednesday, sales officially begin December 1st, 2019.
Respect My Region spoke with Rick Thompson about this story. Thompson is one of the foremost activists in the state of Michigan. He’s the owner of Michigan Cannabis Business Development Group, publisher of Michigan Cannabis Industries Report, and the editor at TheSocialRevolution.org. Additionally, he is a board member of MINORML and MI Legalize. His activism lead him to the judge’s booth of over a dozen cannabis cups across the country.
Interview With Rick Thompson About Dec 1st, 2019
*Respect My Region edited this interview for clarity*
How did you feel about the decision to move up recreational cannabis sales in Michigan by a full month?
I was very happy to hear that the Marijuana Regulatory Agency was going to wait until March or April to do sales on the rec market because they were going to establish a complete solid supply chain. An incomplete and ragged supply chain has suppressed and negatively impacted the rollout of the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing act.
When I learned that they were going to allow the legalize program to bleed cannabis from the already in short-supply medical program I was very concerned for patients. I’m not sure about the sustainability of that model, and I’m not sure that’s the best way to proceed.
Having said that, I’m awfully glad I’m not the person who has to make these decisions. The state has been pushing for a rollout of the legalize program as quickly as possible. Currently, no excise tax is being collected on cannabis sales in the state. Many in the state government want tax dollars to flow immediately.
So this must have been a very tough decision, and I can appreciate all of the factors that must have lead to this point.
What would have been other factors other than state profit?
From a retailer’s perspective, you spent all that money to get licensed in the medical market, and you knew that was going to come with access to the recreational market because that’s how we structured the language of Proposal One. Those people always had an expectation of the rec market coming in.
You can imagine that many didn’t want to wait an extra four or five months to start rec sales. It’s possible, with all the supply chain craziness, that some centers may have been ready to close because medical just wasn’t lucrative enough for them to survive. So those factors may be playing into it too.
I would like to see a complete supply chain creation before we start sales instead of doing what we did before, which was open it up and just let it trickle to success. I’d like to charge in from a position of success at the outset.
Do you feel like the timing of this announcement was fair to the industry?
It was announced on Wednesday, and December 1st is literally 17 days away. If you watch and listen to director Brisbo’s statements he’ll be like, “yes we’re going to have the supply chain. I still have the authority to do things differently, I just haven’t made the decision at this time.”
So he’s always couched his statements allowing himself to adjust those admin rules if he wished to, and apparently, he got under enough pressure and he wished to. It was quite abrupt.
How long was this story been developing before this sudden news?
With MI Legalize we tried to put it on the ballot in 2016, a campaign we started in 2015. So 2014 and 2016 it was MI Legalize by ourselves, 2017 and 2018 were MI Legalize plus MPP (Marijuana Policy Project). So the states been talking about legalization here in mainstream media on the front page of the paper for four years.
On National Public Radio (NPR) this last weekend, all across the state, everywhere I was saying how great I thought it was that they were going to wait to collect tax revenue. They were going to fully form an entire program before they started retail sales and how awesome that was, and then on Wednesday it’s like kick Rick in the dick day.
How will this affect the inventory available for patients?
It’s not going to steal all of the products, but for those centers that open they will take 50 percent of their 30-day old inventory and convert it over. Although it may not be a gut punch to the system, it’s going to impact those centers that adopt recreational laws. For those dozen or two dozens centers that open on December 1st for rec, they’ll probably have diminished supply for patients.
Fortunately, other non-rec centers will still have everything they have available too. So the actual effect on the patient may be minimal, but the message to the patient will be maximal and that is: “we can take cannabis from you to treat non-sick people whenever we want.”
Has Michigan been able to address recreational cannabis supply issues before?
When the system that existed on January 1st, 2019 allowed caregivers to sell cannabis directly to provisioning centers as long as patients signed a waiver with the understanding they were purchasing untested cannabis, every cannabis dispensary in the state had full shelves and there was not a problem with supply at all. The state took that ability away and changed interactions between caregivers and the MMFLA to a different level. That’s when supply chain failures began.
So the state knows exactly how to fix this. In fact, there are more than one million cannabis plants in caregiver control. It’s a resource that we tapped in the past and we could tap in the future. I don’t think there’s any zeal on the part of state actors to put untested cannabis back into the system.
However, the Marijuana Regulatory Agency last year and again this year, reported they have never received a single complaint about caregiver grown cannabis. The reality is no cannabis has been documented as being detrimental to humans in Michigan. Until I actually see somebody get sick, that’s not a real issue.
What do you think about recreational use? what about studies that show that most recreational users are self-medicating?
Whether consciously using it for medicinal purposes, or whether to get our day started we smoke a joint, we fight illnesses we have with our own human bodies and use cannabis as our solution.
I think you’re right most people in the rec market are doing self-titration or self-diagnosing. There’s nothing wrong with that, people have done it for decades. They know how their body responds and they know what they need to make them right.
It’s tough to convince people cannabis belongs in a separate category. Americans like to compartmentalize everything, right? We like to group our sin items together. Then we know where those dirty people are doing their dirt and we can charge them extra taxes because those people are doing it for sinful purposes.
Cannabis doesn’t belong in any specific box. St. John’s Wart, look at that. You can use it, buy it over the counter, if you feel like it’s beneficial to you you can try it out and give it a shot. We fit more into an herbal category than we do anything else.
Who benefits other than Michigan in the early passing of recreational cannabis?
The recreational program has a social equity requirement whereas the medical program does not. The rec program has fewer requirements for licensure so that is an easier bar to hurdle.