by Rick Thompson/originally published in The Rolling Paper March 2021
Okay, a quick review for those of you (actually, us) who do not recall what a scalene triangle is. A triangle with three sides of equal length is an equilateral triangle, a triangle with two equal sides is an isosceles triangle and one with no equal sides is a scalene triangle.
So, what does that have to do with cannabis law reform?
Consider the three legs of the cannabis industry triangle- consumers, providers and regulatory officials. These are three elements which are not equally in command of the Michigan cannabis marketplace. They all contribute in an unequal way.
Ask any business owner and they’ll tell you they are the most important part of the system, or the longest leg of the scalene triangle. Without licensed distribution and production, there would be no cannabis industry, they say. Their work is groundbreaking and all-important and for this, they claim, we should give the industry credit all of our cannabis dollars- and some latitude with regulatory requirements.
The Marijuana Regulatory Agency takes credit for the framework upon which this industry is built. A pseudo-structure was required to activate the 2008 voter directed Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) and it was assigned to the Department of Community Health. The MMMA and the new MMFLA were consolidatedinto a newly-created department for licensing of professionals and businesses. They promulgated rules for the medical-only business industry, then did the same thing two years later when we added the adult-use cannabis businesses.
Without licensing the regulated industry would not exist. Without the authority granted to licensees by the state agency, cops would raid and shutter cannabis businesses. Without the rule of law and the regulatory scheme, there would be no regulated cannabis industry. Regulators believe to some degree that their leg of the triangle is the biggest, because without them, there is no triangle (shameless Matrix reference).
The third side of the triangle, the consumer side, is the side least talked-about in media. When the MRA holds ‘stakeholder meetings’ they fill the room with business and regulatory representatives and give zero or one lonely spot to someone who supposedly represents the cannabis consumer. Consumer issues are discussed by representatives of cannabis industry groups, not NORML, not the people, and therefore the regulators and the businesspersons tend to believe the consumer side of the triangle is the weakest.
In fact it is the consumer side which is the longest side, the most important length of the three-sided industry. Here’s a clue: without consumers and voters, the regulators would not exist. But cannabis sales and consumption would still take place, as they did for decades before regulators were introduced to the cannabis game. If all regulated businesses disappeared today,cannabis sales would still exist and thrive. Just like they did for decades and generations before businesses were introduced to the cannabis game.
It is, in fact, the consumer side of the triangle which could exist on its own, in the absence of regulatory schemes and regulated businesses. We know this TO BE FACT because we already lived in that reality- and, in fact, we still do. The consumers are the life of the industry: they pick winners and losers among the regulated businesses, they pick representatives on the regulatory side by influencing politicians and using their voices to demand change. Consumers Are King. Business owners need to be reminded that they are the shortest side of the triangle, the most disposable, the easiest to eliminate. They do not dictate to us. WE DICTATE TO THEM. Bad price, bad quality, bad people- Bye Bye.
That industry construct I described in the shape of a triangle is really a parallelogram, a four-sided unequal geometric creation: the extra side is the unregulated market. It is a more influential factor in Michigan than regulated businesses, it is unaffected by the machinations of the regulators, and still touches the consumers in a more real way. But parallelograms are harder to describe, and the point has already been made.
Consumers, you are the long leg! Support the people who you feel deserve support: the regulators, the regulated or the unregulated. Exercise your advantage.