Michigan caregiver advocates rally against perceived threat to alter growing rights

A social media-based boycott against large cannabis cultivators, organized by Michigan cannabis patient advocates upset with perceived threats against caregiver rights, has roiled the state’s cannabis community this last week. The online vigor has resulted in one company publicly repudiating its membership in the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers’ Association (MCMA), a national company distancing itself from the trade group, and the trade group’s website going dark.

Patient advocates began to organize on Instagram and Facebook following a May 10 podcast interview with Ryan Ori, an executive at cultivator Six Labs, where Ori claimed Michigan cannabis caregivers are illegally selling cannabis to dispensaries and directly on the black market. 

“Too much competition is bad for business, not just as the business entity owner. It’s because you can’t police it, there’s no enforcement. There’s no ability to keep the quality control measures the government is trying to control,” said Ori, responding to questions about his thoughts on caregivers. “We’re competing against people who are not only cheating, but putting the public at risk, and these are tax dollars not going into your coffers.”

Ori and Six Labs did not respond to a request for comment by publication.

Michigan law allows caregivers to maintain up to 72 plants for five patients and themselves. Those plants do not have to be tracked with Metrc, the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system, nor do they have to be submitted for testing, as is required of cannabis sold through medical or adult-use dispensaries. 

Today, caregiver-grown cannabis is supposed to be grown specifically for individual patients, and not for retail sale. But until 2020, caregivers were legally allowed to sell to medical dispensaries, a critical element in the state’s supply chain as nascent medical cultivators grew. Citing adequate supply, the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) phased out caregiver sales to dispensaries by September 30, 2020.

Today, Michigan maintains a significant caregiver population. As of April 30, Michigan reported 30,689 caregivers and 250,805 patients.

In an interview with Grown In on May 17, the executive director of MCMA, Steve Linder, echoed Ori’s May 10 comments, when he said, “there are two types of distribution systems that don’t test, that don’t create jobs, and don’t pay taxes. One is the totally illegal marketplace. And then the gray area.”

Contacted by phone Wednesday, Linder said he was unable to provide further comment. MCMA’s website also went dark this week.

Since then, Linder has become persona non-grata among Michigan patient advocates, and his organization the target of numerous memes passed around Facebook and Instagram. Advocates have been calling for a boycott of MCMA member companies and of ancillary companies connected to those member companies. 

But, it’s not really a true boycott, says some advocates. “This boycott only exists on social media. There is no organization,” said Adam Brook, cannabis advocate and organizer for 25 years of Ann Arbor’s legendary HashBash. “You had all these people that came from this illicit market to the licensed market. And they have now forgotten where they’ve come from, and there are a bunch of people that are calling them out for that.”

Still, the calls for a boycott have gotten loud enough that at least one MCMA founding member, multi-state operator Pleasantrees, announced on Instagram Tuesday that it had “resigned its membership of MCMA”, while emphasizing that it is “not about” “unlicensed, large-scale, for-profit, commercial ‘caregiver’ operations and delivery services”. 

Pleasantrees did not respond to a request for comment by publication.

The shockwave of caregiver advocate has expanded far enough that Rezwan Khan, CEO of cannabis seed company DNA Genetics, contacted Grown In directly to ensure that Michigan caregivers knew that his company, which has seed licensing agreements with numerous Michigan growers, is in stark opposition to curtailing caregiver rights.

“For us, it’s been really disheartening to be attached to statements that MCMA and Steve Linder made regarding his opinion regarding caregivers,” said Khan. “How could a seed company be against home grow?”

It would seem that caregiver rights are almost unassailable, since they were enshrined in the state’s 2016 referendum, legalizing medical cannabis sales. Because the law was created through a referendum, the legislature must obtain 75% majorities in both chambers to make changes. However, moves by the state’s cannabis regulators to merge the state’s separate medical and adult-use systems, has concerned caregiver advocates.

“This year we’re going to be making changes to the law. You just roll your extra bill onto there, and nobody notices, right? It happens all the time,” said Rick Thompson, a cannabis advocate. “There’s probably ten different changes already.”

Indeed, a draft bill was circulated at the end of the Michigan legislature’s last session to merge the medical and adult-use regulatory systems. But MRA’s spokesperson, David Harns says nothing has moved on that issue this session.

“There have been no drafts this session and the MRA has not pursued this topic with legislators,” Harns told Grown In on Tuesday.