Cannabis Pioneers Celebrate Community




Ken Wachsberger

The cannabis industry is vibrant in Michigan. It’s part underground-part Wild West, but it’s vibrant. Businesses are popping up—let’s say growing like weeds—to provide services and products that already are changing the face of Michigan’s financial character for the better.

And it’s about to come up from the underground as the cannabis pioneers behind MiLegalize lead the way to liberate marijuana for not only medical but also recreational use.

So I was pleased to participate in two dynamic events in October.

Med Marijuana Conference Showcases Vibrancy

The first was the 10th Annual Michigan Medical Marijuana conference, held Friday to Sunday October 23 to 25 at Wyndham Garden Hotel in Ann Arbor. I attended the Friday night exhibitor opening. There, I encountered a wide range of seed sales and medical dispensary displays. One representative gave me a twenty-page spreadsheet of seed strains that they offered their patients along with the breeder, the sex, the flowering time, the genetics, and other valuable information about each. Others showed off their hybrids, their limited editions, and their award-winning genetics.

In the seventies we had Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, and a few others; you smoked whatever was available that week and had no idea what grade they were or with what poisonous chemicals they might have been sprayed. Today you can find strains that are high THC and low CBD or low THC and high CBD. Or high both. Or low both, depending on what level of buzz, if any, you want to experience while the marijuana is releasing its medicinal properties to ease your designated ailments.

And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can talk to consultants who know or you can read any number of books by the pioneers who have been doing it since the seventies.

You can buy mineral compounds that raise the pH of your soil or lower it to balance the acidity and increase your yield, while strengthening the tissues and cell wall of your plants and eliminating odors through biodegradable, allergy-tested means. Or you can just buy soil that already contains the best ingredients to nurture your herbal medicine while it is growing. One nutrient company offered minerals, rock dusts, and other ingredients to boost the outcome of any yield including perlite, vermiculite, worm castings, poultry compost, steer manure compost, soft rock phosphate, humates, kelp meal, and many more products all made in or from Michigan.

Do you prefer to grow your pot in pots? You can buy a product that reduces transplant shock and is bound in a latex coating to delay nutrient release when the roots reach the side of the container.

Seals of approval and trophies from High Times magazine were a common show of credibility. The term “organic” showed up often.

One craftsman was doing a brisk business selling personally made walnut wood cases with hand-rubbed tung oil finish that he still euphemistically calls cigarette cases but today proudly advertises for use by medical marijuana patients “to carry their hand rolled meds in their back pocket.” Do you prefer your joints thick or thin, long or short? He does it all.

Head shop products; hydroponic and growing supplies; weed trimmers; defenses against fungus, insects, and bacteria that work at every stage of the growing cycle; and, of course, T-shirts featuring the likenesses of Bob Marley, Snoop Dogg, and a glazed community of history’s favorite stoners: I found myself laughing out loud as I perused the products and services trying to imagine such an event forty years ago. Every company had a website.

All the while, MiLegalize, the grassroots cannabis advocacy group, was busily gathering signatures to secure a place for what will be the most progressive statewide legal marijuana initiative on the November 2016 ballot.

Sadly, I was out of town and unable to attend the Saturday and Sunday events. Saturday was the actual conference, featuring panels and classes on cannabis law reform, organic growing, grow room cleaning, hydroponic gardening, vermicose soil, super cropping/grow room design, coco coir, CBD information, and cooking with cannabis, all culminating in an afterglow party with marijuana legend John Sinclair. On Sunday, attendees learned the logistics, tax and accounting issues, and legal guidelines relevant to opening a medical marijuana dispensary.

MiLegalize and “The Michigan Moment”

Three days later I attended a fundraiser for MiLegalize at the elegant Roostertail Restaurant on the banks of the Detroit River. The leaders of MiLegalize are the pioneers who gave birth to the cannabis industry in Michigan and nurtured it during the dark days of Marijuana Prohibition. They have written the only plan that represents the best interests of the grassroots grass community and currently are spearheading a vigorous and costly petition drive to get it on the ballot for the November 2016 election.

According to MiLegalize assistant campaign manager Nick Zettell, 253,000 valid signatures are required from registered Michigan voters by December 20. “We have at least 150,000 validated signatures. More are on the way and we need to collect from volunteers and hubs across the state.”

The event was an opportunity to socialize and network with movement leaders while becoming updated on the status of the campaign and raising much-needed funds.

Chuck Ream, who led the 2004 medical marijuana initiative in Ann Arbor to a landslide victory and has been part of 23 local cannabis victories in 19 Michigan cities since then, gave the opening keynote talk.

According to Ream, voters in Michigan have spoken: Marijuana legalization is inevitable. But “now we see forces emerging who want to take the money and extort enforcement powers for themselves” unless Michigan voters approve the MiLegalize plan to “legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis for adult use, implement ‘safe access’ for medical patients, and let farmers grow hemp.”

Through boundless toil we convinced Michiganders that legalization is inevitable. We never realized that it could be investors, police, and regulators who create legalization—and suck the life out of it to further enrich “the 1%,” and pay for useless bureaucrats and cops … AND create new crimes and arrests.

As examples, he pointed to requirements in the new Michigan dispensary laws that are being debated in the House and Senate that would be unnecessary under the MiLegalize plan: hiring of new police “for criminal enforcement activity related to medical marijuana,” 113 new LARA (Michigan Bureau of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs) bureaucrats, intrusive and expensive software brought in from other states to track all plants “from seed to sale,” real-time access for police to all transactions and records, huge regulatory assessments on marijuana businesses, and much more that will lead to new excuses to fill the jails, bankrupt businesses, break apart families, and trample on our freedoms as Americans.

Courts have now said that the feds can’t raid dispensaries any longer, so the overregulated, pork barrel legalization schemes are obsolete. Now it is the MiLegalize plan that makes sense!

Other speakers:

Jeff Hank, executive director of MiLegalize and chair of the hugely successful campaigns to legalize marijuana in Lansing and East Lansing, noted that we are four months into a six-month grassroots campaign, the shortest campaign ever tried in this country and it has been done with no money from national groups. Four hundred people have donated so far. “This is the Michigan moment.”

Jim Powers, executive director of Michigan Parents for Compassion, told the story of his son Ryan, victim of a chronic auto-immune condition that cannabis has helped since, at age 3, he became one of Michigan’s youngest medical marijuana patients. Ryan’s problem, he said, was shown to be resistant to Western medicine including chemotherapy, but medical marijuana worked. Now everyone in the family is vulnerable to arrest. “Michigan has no incentive to stop throwing us in jail. Police continue to perpetuate war on us because of money.” Powers, a member of the MiLegalize board, helped draft the law, which, he noted, will protect the right to grow medication safely, provide access through retail establishments, and let anyone smoke just to smoke.

Steve Green is a medical marijuana patient who, with his wife Maria, founded Hybrid Life magazine to advocate for the medicinal properties of all herbs. “The world revolves around money,” he conceded. “Donate to MiLegalize. The war on drugs is war on the American family.” He stated that he uses marijuana medically and spiritually. “Do I use it for recreation also? I can’t tell the difference.”

Matthew Abel, executive director of Michigan NORML, predicted that we’re going to make it. “It’s inevitable. We just don’t know when and how. Many people think victory now is a done deal. It’s not. The ballot initiative will help the Democrats but the Democrats are not helping us. It will only work if we don’t let up.”

Steve Miller, former police officer from Canton and Milan and now a speaker for LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), a group of law enforcement community members who advocate for an end to the drug war, noted that 90 percent of petty drug arrests are for marijuana. “These arrests often cause people to have to forfeit their cars that they need to get to work.” The current laws are “a bureaucratic mess that creates more work for law enforcement.” MiLegalize has provided “the most responsible legislation out there. It’s good for patients, business owners, recreational users, law enforcement, and families.”

Allison Ireton, co-chair of the Southeast Michigan chapter of Women Grow, a networking and educational organization of cannabis growers, explained that Women Grow was created to help women become involved in the cannabis industry but that it isn’t just for women. However, women make 80 percent of purchasing decisions and women are diagnosed with cancer at a higher rate than men. “We must get women to vote.” Fellow co-chair Dori Edwards acknowledged the fear users feel for doing what is normal. “We need to come out of the closet and connect through networking. The more we talk, the more powerful we feel against the bureaucracy.”

Attorney Tom Lavigne has represented patients, caregivers, and businesses under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. He placed the war on marijuana in its historical context. “We’ve turned the corner. We’ve left behind mass incarceration, anti-trust violations that suppressed hemp, taking away children for choosing herbal medicine.”

Rick Thompson, a board member of MiLegalize and Michigan NORML as well as publisher of the online The Compassion Chronicles, invoked our revolutionary history as he declared, “We are patriots. We must make sacrifices. Who signed the Declaration of Independence: land owners, lawyers, business men, merchants. We are cut from the same cloth.” He acknowledged that the movement is filled with danger and that “We may be harassed from agents of the king: IRS, Social Services.” Nevertheless, “It is time for decisive action.”

Lifetime Detroit resident George Cushingberry, Jr. in 1975 became the youngest person ever elected to the Michigan State House. He is currently president pro-tem of Detroit city council. In the closing keynote, he applauded the $50 fine that Detroit voters overwhelmingly supported, asserting, “It worked fine until reactionaries took over.” Detroit voters overall, he predicted, will sign the petition. “Just make sure they’re registered to vote.” Noting that the MiLegalize proposal will help the economy, strengthen the city, and provide medicine that is tested, he stated, “I’ve never seen anyone kill anyone over weed, or break into a house to feed a marijuana habit.” He concluded, “When candidates ask for your support, ask them if they are willing to take marijuana off the schedule of narcotics. If you believe it’s just and right, you can’t lose.”

With only some fifty attendees, the turnout was smaller than I expected but it became evident that many of the empty seats represented supporters who had sent in their donations but not shown up. Over $22,000 was raised, a significant haul.

In his opening keynote, Chuck Ream applauded the angel donor who gave over $250,000 and another who gave $100,000 more. But much more is needed. Free speech isn’t free and statewide campaigns are not cheap. As we enter the final stage of the historic campaign by MiLegalize to place their marijuana proposal onto the 2016 Michigan ballot, it’s time for supporters to open their wallets.

Ken Wachsberger is an author, editor, political organizer, and member of the National Writers Union.

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