My friend Tim Beck of the Safer Michigan Coalition likes to remind people that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. The axiom is true, of course, but I find that it is an incomplete thought. I would say that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics, but there is no statute of limitations on holding a grudge, either.
Case in point: the recent and continuing feud between some licensed MMFLA facilities and the nearly 50,000 caregivers that make up the backbone of Michigan’s medical marijuana program.
Green Peak, a rather large company doing business in Michigan as a cultivation center licensed to produce thousands of cannabis plants at a single time, and the other businesses like them have been disadvantaged in the marketplace. The state regulatory agency has allowed individuals- licensed and regulated medical marijuana caregivers- to provide cannabis into the newly-launched commercial system. It was a necessity and kept the entire regulated distribution system floating for more than a year. Caregiver cannabis avoided testing, transportation costs and the added cost of commercial production and licensure.
Green Peak’s chosen way to deal with its disadvantage was to launch an all-out assault on the caregiver cannabis in the system. The company took out ads in newspapers, went on television and held an anti-caregiver cannabis rally disguised as an effort to protect patients. Michigan’s regulatory agency reports there has never been a documented illness originating from contaminated cannabis in Michigan’s decade-long medical program, but that fact did not dissuade Green Peak from using terms like “dirty,” “dangerous,” and “unsafe” to describe cannabis from caregivers.
This is a short version of a long and intricate story, but the point is made. A set of companies lead by Green Peak engaged in a smear campaign targeted at registered caregivers under the state medical marijuana program.
Under Beck’s favorite quote, those caregivers would eventually forgive Green Peak. The maligned individuals would allow their hate for Green Peak to fade and they would eventually patronize the Green Peak stores and Skymint brand line. But, under my modified statement, for many caregivers that will probably be a cold day in Hell.
Some grudges are permanent.
It’s one thing to make a bad marketing decision but it is entirely another to insult the product of people’s blood, sweat and tears. To a grower who spends every day in his garden, being told that his cannabis could seriously injure a patient is like stabbing them with a knife. Since LARA says there is no evidence to support the statement that illness or injury comes from the cannabis, the knife is made of lies. Those emotional wounds often never heal.
Using rough numbers, there are 50,000 caregivers in Michigan- nearly all patients- and 100,000 patients who use caregivers, per a 2018 statement from LARA. That’s 150,000 people whose personal experience tells them that caregiver cannabis is not bad or dangerous. There are only 300,000 patients in the entire system capable of purchasing Green Peak/Skymint products. Alienating half of your customer base seems like one for the Bad Decision Hall of Fame.
Especially since caregivers didn’t do anything wrong. They were given an opportunity to legally sell their extra cannabis by the state- it would be foolish to ignore that opportunity. The decision to allow untested caregiver cannabis in the system was made by governmental entities and office holders, not the rank-and-file MMMA patients and caregivers. Complaining about LARA probably didn’t seem prudent, given that they remain the regulatory agency overseeing Green Peak’s licenses. Calling caregivers product “dangerous” was unwise, regardless of circumstance.
Regarding bad cannabis, if provisioning centers receive complaints about product they simply stop buying from that caregiver. It’s a system used by all the quasi-legal unlicensed centers in operation from 2009 until the present day.
Detroit licensed MMFLA centers are in the newspaper recently complaining about all the unlicensed cannabis retailers operating in their city. One proposal with merit was suggested which would require any advertisements from businesses in the five named MMFLA categories to display their MMFLA license number. It would theoretically prevent pirate businesses from using traditional media pathways to advertise.
Although wise in design, this idea may not end up being the smart fix to a sticky problem it seems to be. The proposal involves a legislative path, and cannabis bills are often distorted into vehicles of special interest advantage in Michigan’s Republican-controlled Senate. Still it is a solution that focuses not on the end consumer but on the pirate businesses themselves,which is a better solution than our previous example.
MMFLA businesses will struggle with supply/demand issues in 2019. Regardless of what happens or how bad it gets, businesses should always find solutions which do not demonize the people of Michigan’s medical marijuana program. In 2019 the registered patient and caregiver population are the only people capable of making cannabis purchases, so calling purchasers names or using billboard advertisements which offend caregivers and patients is a mistake which directly impacts profitability.
In Michigan’s competitive and expensive medical cannabis marketplace, businesses can’t afford to make a blunder of that magnitude and survive. At least, they can’t do it twice.