Marijuana was once taboo, an illicit drug that still has millions behind bars.
Children were told it was something to be avoided at all costs, that it would rot brains and act as a gateway into a world of other harmful drugs.
Now, however, states are legalizing the natural substance and a federal movement is progressing – in April, the US House of Representatives passed a landmark bill. Although the measure did not pass the Senate, the action shows there is promise for legislation that legalizes marijuana, eliminates criminal penalties involving the substance, taxes its products and creates procedures to clear previous convictions.
For now, marijuana remains an illegal Schedule 1 drug nationally, but many states, including Michigan, have made it perfectly legal for both medicinal and recreational use. Michigan voters approved the legalization of marijuana in 2018.
Michigan cannabis sales totaled more than $1.3 billion in 2021, according to the Cannabis Regulatory Agency. This generated over $42 million in tax revenue for the state.
According to Alex Todd, co-founder of Saucey Farms and Extracts, a national brand that recently entered the Michigan market through Lake Life, Michigan could be a pivotal state to help shape how the rest of the country legalizes marijuana. Farms.
“The overall market is still very young, and we’re excited to see the market mature as more stores open,” Todd said. “Continuing to pop up in new spaces like this is our way of growing with a maturing legalized cannabis market.”
While it may seem to some that there is already an abundance (potential oversupply) of cannabis stores in West Michigan, many industry players see that there is still plenty of growth that can occur in the industry.
Last year, Grand Rapids Magazine spoke with former radio DJ Drew McCarthy, now CEO of the Gage marijuana dispensary, about the industry. As the stigma fades, McCarthy said he sees the potential to talk about marijuana as casually as beer here in Beer City, USA.
“The most important thing: Marijuana is legal,” he said. “Some of my friends and family, you light up a joint and they’re worried if someone’s going to smell that? I hope so, I spent money on it. The first time I lit one of our Georgia Pie Cookies, my wife, she was like, ‘Oh my God, that smells like cigars.’
“That’s where this industry is going. Talk about it like it’s a normal thing, like it’s beer.
Like McCarthy, many believe that marijuana might even be less harmful than alcohol. Both substances can have adverse effects due to altered states of mind. Unlike alcohol, however, which can cause death from overuse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that marijuana cannot cause death from overuse. The CDC reports more than 30,000 annual deaths from alcohol-related health effects, while it has no comparable marijuana category.
There is also evidence that drinking alcohol is more harmful to the brain in the long term. There are even studies that suggest that marijuana has nueroprotective qualities, which means it could be good for the brain.
It’s not all good news for the marijuana industry, as it still faces a lot of opposition and negative reports. In May, a fifth-grade student at a school in Livonia brought marijuana gummies to school and shared them with a classmate. Both were taken to the emergency room.
Similarly, Michigan lawmakers are scrambling to limit the exposure of marijuana advertising to children, and local municipalities are fighting the idea of opening dispensaries within their boundaries.
Lots of opportunities
Although obstacles are hindering the growth of the cannabis industry, there is also hope, said Darel Ross, founder of 40 Acres Consulting. Ross started out in the cannabis industry consulting people on licensing, prequalification, real estate options, and land development.
A big hurdle in licensing is real estate, and businesses must meet qualifications determined by the state and local municipalities. If it does not meet all of the requirements of the ordinance, the business is prohibited.
“If there’s no real estate that fits that criteria, you have no opportunity,” Ross said.
Ross said there’s a lot of money flowing into Michigan’s cannabis industry, including private investments, credit unions and custodians.
“There is more demand than opportunity,” he said. “A lot of it is the unintended consequences of policies that municipalities (have) limit physical locations.
“But there is a lot of momentum, a lot of money and still a lot of opportunities to be found.”
Because marijuana is still a federally illegal drug, one of the most challenging aspects for the industry is marketing.
For Laura Bywalec, Marketing Coordinator at Joyology, a big part of her job is to take the stigma out of marijuana – that it’s ‘bad’ or just used to ‘high’. The Joyology brand is built on the feeling of happiness and incorporates lots of colors and bubbles.
Bywalec said many dispensary clients use marijuana for medical purposes and just to be able to function on a daily basis.
“It’s not just the stereotype of sitting on the couch, doing nothing,” Bywalec said. “My job is to show others who we are and what we do.”
When she started in her position last year, it was difficult to even advertise anywhere. Joyology had Instagram pages deleted.
“You can show someone using alcohol, but not cannabis,” she said.
In May, Bywalec said Joyology began running an ad on FOX 17. That ad, however, could not say the company is a dispensary, say the word cannabis, or feature products.
“It’s all about brand awareness, and you have to leave that to the customers. You are very limited in what you can say and cannot say,” she said.
This story can be found in the May/June 2022 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here.