A trio of incidents reveal leaders whose attitudes about cannabis did not evolve after the legalization proposal passed in 2018
An editorial by Rick Thompson/January 23, 2020
FLINT- Powerful people in Michigan are just not on the same page as the populace when it comes to having a modern understanding of cannabis and cannabis law reform in Michigan.
In one incident the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created a series of six videos depicting a modern cannabis user faced with himself from ten years in the future. The future self berated the current self for using cannabis and warned that weight problems, educational opportunities lost and no job/money/friends would be the consequence of continued cannabis use. The video series debuted in December but faced criticism within the past week from advocates and industry observers.
In a second incident, former Lt. Governor Brian Calley spoke on the Michigan Public Radio program ‘Stateside’ as a representative of the Small Business Association (SBA). The topic was federal banking reform for the cannabis industry. Calley repeated the scare tactics used by Republicans during the run-up to the 2018 general election in his discouragement of a cannabis industry. Calley claimed that every transaction taking place between a registered, licensed cannabis industry company and a financial institution was “money laundering” and further extended that stigma to all ancillary industries who support Michigan’s emergent medical and adult-use cannabis programs.
A third incident involves Detroit police chief James Craig. Craig issued a statement admonishing the city’s illegal cannabis industry while discouraging the city government from creating a legal pathway for cannabis purchases. His dialog was reminiscent of 1970’s law enforcement talking points and seemed to be completely disconnected from the reality of modern America.
In Calley’s incident the Small Business Association could not have selected a worse spokesperson. Instead of advocating for the advancement of small business Calley seemed to discourage the entirety of the industry. He could have pointed out that Colorado sold $1.5 billion in cannabis last year and banked most of that money without a single incidence of federal interference. He could have pointed out Michigan’s existing medical marijuana business industry, now two years old, has not experienced a federal interference in commerce or banking.
Calley’s message came across as, regardless of state licensing, Michigan’s cannabis businesses are all criminals and they deserve to get whatever the feds do to them. If none of the state’s new businesses chose to enroll in or support the SBA’s current or future activities, it would be completely understandable. Let the SBA stand on the outside of a multi-billion dollar industry and watch while cannabis businesses create an analog organization that functions like the SBA does. That is the price of willful ignorance.
The HHS problem comes from an organization whose attitude did not evolve after the election of 2018. The series of videos supposedly were intended to discourage youth use of cannabis but the actors selected, the dialog used and the visuals presented did not indicate the main character was in fact a youth. The tropes cited in the videos about poor health, laziness and lack of friends are leftovers from the 1980’s War on Drugs mentality.
The cannabis community rose up against the video series and in fact, the HHS took down all but one of the six videos. In their response to the community’s complaint, HHS cited a long-debunked study indicating IQ points are lost by youthful cannabis users. If the state’s top medical office is using outdated information to make crucial medical evaluations of current issues facing the state, a change in leadership is needed in that office.
The Detroit News says Chief Craig “estimated that 60% of the recent shootings and homicides in the city involved black market marijuana sales.” Homicides and nonfatal shootings are up over the previous year’s totals for the same period, Craig informed the media, and blames “dial-a-dope” schemes wherein a cannabis user texts an illegal cannabis dealer to meet for a transaction. Both parties, Craig claims, are usually carrying guns and violence erupts from that fact.
Craig continues to refer to cannabis as “dope”, using that term four times in two sentences as quoted by the News. He also ignores his department’s failure to take those guns off the streets. His department has a terrible track record in treating cannabis users fairly; his officers have been accused of theft, bribery, intimidation and violence in their actions to curb Detroit’s grey-market cannabis industry in years past. Instead of suggesting the city move to support a regulated adult-use program Craig suggests they should pump the brakes on allowing the medical cannabis industry to evolve into making recreational cannabis sales, too.
When voters sent pro-cannabis candidates Gretchen Whitmer and Dana Nessel into the Governor and Attorney General’s offices, respectively, we expected they would bring with them a sense of modern sanity and acceptance of cannabis use in Michigan society. Nessel’s victory was a thin one indeed, a victory she has since credited to her cannabis industry affiliation. It seems that the purging of anti-cannabis personalities from Michigan’s governmental apparatus is an incomplete action, one which we hope is still ongoing.
When talking to youth about cannabis, government should use verifiable facts instead of fear. When the SBA discusses the cannabis industry, encourage industry by presenting the positive examples as well as the challenges. And when trying to reduce illegal activity in your city, one should not stomp on the legal means used by other communities to direct transactions away from illegal actors and into the regulated cannabis marketplace.