Mike Fourcher / Grown In

MichiganNORML executive director Rick Thompson addresses a crowd of hundreds of caregiver advocates rallying at Michigan’s state capitol in Lansing on September 15, 2021, to oppose proposed legislation that would largely eliminate the state’s unique caregiver program. Credit: Mike Fourcher / Grown In

Supporters of Michigan’s cannabis caregiver laws gathered in Lansing yesterday to protest recently introduced anti-caregiver legislation that would severely restrict Michigan’s unique rules for the gray market. The demonstration, which drew about three hundred protestors to the Capitol lawn, was originally planned months ago to oppose rumored legislation, but anti-caregiver Michigan legislators conveniently introduced a suite of bills on Monday, HB5300, HB5301, and HB5302, that gave caregivers and patients a specific target for their ire.

“This is just an attempt by corporate weed and their lobbyists to corner the market for themselves,”  State Rep. Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit) told the crowd during yesterday’s rally. Johnson and others led the crowd through a call-and-answer of “What do we want? No changes!”

At issue is Michigan cannabis law that allows caregivers to maintain up to twelve plants each for up to six patients. The product from these plants do not need to be tracked in seed-to-sale systems, tests, or even registered for sale to the patients.

The proposed new law would create new regulation for caregivers, limiting them to serving only one patient, rather than six, pay a $500 annual registration fee, require product testing as well as registration in the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system, and would ban anyone with a non-marijuana felony from becoming a caregiver – a limitation that would push out many caregivers, since so many have previous drug-related criminal backgrounds.

Proponents of the law say it keeps the cost of cannabis down for patients who have extensive needs that could cost up to $800 a month at a medical dispensary, whereas many caregivers claim to either provide flower for free or for cost. Opponents say that caregivers are merely a thinly veiled way for underground growers to skirt the law, providing cover to grow cannabis that just ends up being sold to non-patients illegally.

“This legislation is a turning point on cannabis in Michigan that updates our laws intended by voters to provide access to safe, regulated cannabis products for all Michiganders,” said Steve Linder, executive director of the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers’ Association (MCMA), a group that has become vilified through a broad-ranging social media campaign by caregiver advocates since Linder provided an interview to this publication last May where he said “We have to get at the unregulated supply and that law needs to be passed. And we’re going to lead the charge.”

Caregiver advocates see an existential threat against their ability to obtain medical cannabis at a reasonable cost.

“I think it would definitely fuel the underground market,” if the proposed law was passed, said Zahara Abbas, head of the Cannabis Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party. “I don’t think everyone can afford the dispensaries.”

Mike Fourcher / Grown In

Caregiver advocates protested in front of a billboard from the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturer’s Association at Michigan’s state capitol in Lansing on September 15, 2021. Credit: Mike Fourcher / Grown In

Earlier this year, MCMA commissioned a study from the Anderson Economic Group that estimated 30 percent of the state’s cannabis market is served by caregivers and home medical growers, and that the illegal market is another 39 percent of the Michigan market. Other national studies estimate the illegal market to be between 65 and 70 percent of the total market, which suggests that Michigan’s caregiver system is bringing at least some portion of the underground market into a gray one with some visibility – at least more than in states that lack caregivers. 

“Make no mistake, this is a fight,” MichiganNORML leader Rick Thompson declared on the Capitol steps. “You’re making a bad law that turns innocent citizens into criminals.”

Meanwhile, Michigan’s biggest cannabis advocacy group, the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association (MiCIA), has yet to officially weigh in, although numerous Michigan cannabis companies were present at and supportive of yesterday’s caregiver rally.

“It’s just a small group of businesses initiating this legislation,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of MiCIA. “A large number of companies are not participating in it. They are focusing on growing and scaling their own businesses.”

Asked if she thought the proposed anti-caregiver legislation would go anywhere, Schneider was doubtful.

“We’ve had caregivers for twelve years; every legislator knows caregivers. I think this bill getting any traction seems highly unlikely,” she said.

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Editor Mike is an itinerate reporter, recovering political consultant, and strategy game devotee.