by Rick Thompson/originally appeared in The Rolling Paper June 2020
Spring heralds growth; summer brings the burn. This is a truth experienced by most Michigan lawns and outdoor gardens. Fact is, this is true for Michigan’s cannabis industry this year, too.
Despite the coronavirus’ wicked plans to cancel everything in America, the cannabis industry has enjoyed a pleasant spring of curbside pickups, medical/recreational deliveries and robust sales figures. The medical world has remained unfettered by government as caregivers and patients interact as they always have, independent and unseen.
This pleasant spring could become a summer burning season quite quickly. The Michigan Supreme Court recently issued an opinion which reverses a decade of law that protected caregivers from interference from their local municipality. By deciding that locals can deny caregivers the right to grow cannabis in commercial settings, the door is open for communities to enact tight restrictions on caregiver activities.
To be sure, any effort to suppress caregiver rights will be fought in court. There are cannabis specialist criminal defense attorneys lining up to take a case in defense of caregivers against a city whose leaders decide to act irresponsibly. Despite our ten-year plus history of successful cannabis caregiving in Michigan, there are those who would gladly run our laws back to a 1950’s mentality when it comes to cannabis freedoms. Give them an inch and they’ll take your rights.
Commercially, the emergence of the industry from the suffocating effect of the virus on American society could be an ugly one. Giant commercial cultivators have found champions in Michigan’s legislature and they have proposed to triple the allotment of cannabis plants allowed to be cultivated by licensees.
The argument they make is a hollow one. By claiming that there is a cannabis shortage in Michigan they hope to gain long-term domination over the industry. If this is a reaction to a temporary shortage, let the permissions be temporary, too. I’ve always been of the mind that it is better to have 300 millionaires than 30 billionaires, but the billionaires disagree. Michigan’s Regulatory Agency has continued to license cultivators and there are currently more plants under cultivation that there were harvested in all of last year. No tripling of permissions is needed.
The stage is set for the same old conflicts to rise up just like the summer temperature does. The battle between the mega-rich and the wanna-be wealthy will play out in the halls of lawmaking. The battle between the personal freedoms people and the municipal control advocates will be fought in Council chambers and courtrooms.
Caught in the middle: the common people. Patients need continuity, not disruption, and battles over caregiver rights trap sick people in an anxiety elevator. Cannabis consumers are right to wonder if their industry is being converted from a moderately-open system into one where the cultivation players are so large, no new faces have a chance to make it in the grow business. Just like with the coronavirus pandemic response, most of the people affected by the new regulations will not be people who are involved in the business, just like most of the people affected by the travel restrictions and business shutdowns were not victims of the actual illness.
Summer is a burning season in America, and 2020 seems like it’ll be one for the record books.