Weed Traveler: A Cannabis Comeback in Detroit
Cannabis as medicine has been legal in Michigan since 2008, with 18 cities decriminalizing its use, including Detroit. However, education on the plant as medicine was slow to travel to the region, with Detroit banning all concentrates made from the plant, and only allowing smoking. Today, while the dispensaries in Detroit restock their shelves with concentrates after the ban was lifted, patients are holding their proverbial breath that safe access can continue in their city and throughout the state.
The Establishment of Industry in Detroit
Originally settled by the French in 1701, Detroit was initially nothing more than a trading post for fur. Due to its French-inspired architecture, the city was hailed as the Paris of the West. During the 19th century, Detroit became a city of industry and prosperity, fueled (literally) by Henry Ford’s Model T and funded by John D. Rockefeller and his oil interests.
Ford’s friend and fellow inventor, Thomas Edison, lit up Washington Boulevard with lights, as the city entered the Gilded Age, with mansions springing up on the outskirts of a thriving downtown. A little-known fact is that Ford and Edison were friends, with summer homes side by side in Florida. It was there that Edison had a test lab, with the two collaborating on plant-based power and manufacturing.
A common misconception is that Ford’s first car was made entirely of hemp, but that was only part of the mix of plant-based materials, which included corn, ramie, straw, soy, and hemp. The car was fueled entirely by ethanol from corn.
“It will be a car of darn sight better design in every form,” Ford announced via the New York Times in February 1941. “And don’t forget the motor car business is just one of the industries that can find new uses for plastics, made from what’s grown in the land!”
This dream, however, ended when a fire mysteriously destroyed the manufacturing facilities.
Hence, Motor City and its combustion engine were born from the petroleum industry, rather than the garden, as Ford acquiesced to the Industrial Revolution. Motor City also spawned the oil industry and Rockefeller’s deep pockets.
"Hopefully, the cannabis industry’s evolution in Motor City can turn health woes, as well as Detroit’s economy, around."
Many historians also believe that petroleum by-products also spurred the pharmaceutical industry, with whistle-blowing author, Morris Allison Bealle, penning, “The Drug Story: America’s $10,000,000 Drug Cartel – its methods, operations, hidden ownership, profits and terrific impact on the health of the American People,” in 1949 (available on Amazon).
Bealle’s page-turner exposed William Rockefeller’s first patent of raw petroleum as a cure for cancer in the 1860s. Yes, you read that right, John D. Rockefeller’s father was a snake oil salesman. Originally a farmer from upstate New York, William Rockefeller moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1850, registering as a physician, peddling “Nujol,” or “new oil,” as a cure-all for what ailed you.
His son John realized the financial potential with the byproduct that would have been tossed, and the pharmaceutical industry was born.
Detroit's Attitude Towards Cannabis Use
Today, the irony of the history of petroleum, the auto and pharmaceutical industries, and the emergence of the hemp and cannabis industries making a comeback in both spaces, is not lost on this writer.
As Bealle tried to warn us, profits – not the health and well-being of the people – was the driving force behind the wealth in Detroit. Hopefully, the cannabis industry’s evolution in Motor City can turn health woes, as well as Detroit’s economy, around.
Cannabis as medicine has been legal in Michigan since 2008, with 18 cities decriminalizing its use, including Detroit. Yet education on the plant as medicine was slow to travel to the Midwest, with Detroit banning all concentrates made from the plant, and only allowing smoking. It wasn’t uncommon to hear about black-market deals going down between medicine makers and cancer patients during the ban as late as a year and a half ago.
The ban was just part of the misdirected crackdown on cannabis, though, as the state had no rules in place for licensing dispensaries – making any safe access establishment illegal right out the door.
Jamie Cooper of Grand Haven has built a business out of helping make sense of the situation, establishing Canna Media Works in 2015. Her company assists emerging businesses in the cannabis space with marketing, branding, and networking between companies who otherwise felt like they were on an island of red tape.
In December of 2016, Governor Snyder signed a set of bills righting the problem, laying down licensing guidelines, and allowing concentrates.
“Up until last December patients were continually getting arrested for having concentrates and infused products – even oil for cancer – because the products themselves were not addressed in the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act of 2008,” Cooper explained.
“Smoking was the only medical application accepted by law enforcement. Patients were having their children removed from their care for medicating with cannabis concentrates, which never should have happened.”
Ordinances are everything, and Cooper says that regulating and taxing the cannabis industry is a step in the right direction on educating the public, while helping cities and counties be financially viable in the wake of decades of fiscal crises.
“No one deserves to go to prison for a plant, but the way the rules are set up, they invite failure.”
“Regulations ensure patients safe access to their medicine, while providing jobs,” Cooper says. “And jobs are what’s desperately needed in Michigan and Detroit.”
While the state’s guidelines help, there are still grave issues with the dispensaries who have opened without licensing, and threats to its existing caregiving program.
“Caregivers are no longer allowed to sell their overages to dispensaries,” Cooper continues. “Patients will be taxed three percent at the dispensary level, and this drives up the price for the consumer.”
Cooper said that 15 per cent of the three per cent is allotted to the Michigan State Police, County law enforcement, and law enforcement training to crackdown on people not abiding by the rules.
“No one deserves to go to prison for a plant, but the way the rules are set up, they invite failure,” Cooper adds. “For instance, a patient can grow 12 plants, but they can only have two and a half ounces of dry, usable material. Anyone who knows a little bit about cannabis cultivation knows that one plant produces well over two and a half ounces. As soon as your product is dry, you are in an illegal operation.”
As for dispensaries now able to get licensing, Cooper said it doesn’t get much better.
“Former Michigan State Trooper, Don Bailey, sits on the licensing board,” she says. “He has publicly made it clear that he doesn’t want to see anyone who is operating in the ‘black market’ get a license. He believes that if they aren’t abiding by the law now, they won’t in the future, license or not.”
December 2017 is when the state will begin the licensing process in accepting applications. Cooper acknowledged the typical 12 to 18 months it takes most states to implement, stating, “We are looking at early 2019 before we finally see a state licensed dispensary opens its doors. Until then, there will be very little accessibility for patients and they will head back to the black market for their medicine. That’s a given.”
While the dispensaries of Detroit restock its shelves with concentrates, patients are holding their proverbial breath that safe access can continue in their city and throughout the state.
Safe access means more healing, but for the city of Detroit, it also means much needed jobs.
“I know my help in setting up businesses is needed right now,” Cooper said. “But what is keeping me busy is my work on helping to educate cities and municipalities on the opportunities and common concerns that come with allowing safe access. It’s a true trickle-down, and until the federal government admits they made a mistake by putting cannabis on Schedule 1, administrators and legislators have no idea of what is really at stake here – the health, well-being, and financial success of their communities.”