Michigan Cannabis Manufacturer Association board chair Shelly Edgerton and executive director Steve Linder testified before the Michigan House Regulatory Reform Committee on Tuesday, October 5, 2021. Credit: Michigan House Video

Michigan’s largest cannabis producers released a soft, fluffy salvo Monday in their guerilla war of gentle voter persuasion this week with their plan to roll out big medical cannabis discounts for medical patients. Under the proposal, members of the Medical Cannabis Manufacturers’ Association would, “offer cannabis products at low or no cost to patients who are severely ill or have terminal illnesses.”

As it launches its new “nice guy campaign”, the Medical Cannabis Manufacturers’ Association (MCMA) is pushing legislation in Lansing that would sharply rollback the state’s caregiver program, which currently provides free or low-cost medical cannabis to over 247,000 registered patients.

The trade organization can’t coordinate a standardized program among its members, says executive director Steve Linder, since that action would violate federal antitrust laws, but the idea is to have a, “reliable price for people that show up maybe under the poverty line [or] have terminal illnesses. There are a whole range of things that can be built into these programs.”

Michigan’s caregiver system, created when the state first legalized medical cannabis use in a 2008 referendum, allows registered caregivers to grow up to 12 plants at any one time for up to five registered patients and themselves. MCMA and others charge, and many caregivers admit, that a significant portion of the cannabis grown by caregivers is going into the underground market. A recent study commissioned by MCMA finds 30% of Michigan cannabis is coming from caregivers. It would be surprising if MCMA members did not want that market share.

Last month, legislators supported by MCMA rolled out a package of bills that would limit caregivers to serving just one patient, and require caregivers to follow the same testing and seed tracking rules as commercial growers, a move caregivers say would essentially eliminate the caregiver program. But to make changes to a law passed by referendum, Michigan legislators have to obtain a three-quarters majority in both houses. To help make that happen, MCMA is running an immense persuasion campaign to convince both voters and legislators that getting rid of caregivers is the right idea.

But MCMA’s sunny ideas of just helping folks doesn’t jibe for proponents of keeping the current caregiver system.

“It’s already a common practice to give patients a discount in retail stores in Michigan. If these guys are just now proposing that, they’re behind the times,” said Rick Thompson, executive director of Michigan NORML.

“These guys are thugs. They’re bullies. They push people around and they have minions like Steve Linder doing their dirty work. And the people are fed up with it,” said George Brikho, who leads up the Michigan Caregivers Association.

Brikho and Linder’s enmity have been pronounced during this political clash. Earlier that day Linder told this reporter that Brikho was “vile”, because he had been implicitly supporting threats of violence against Linder and MCMA members. The threats had been strong enough, said Linder, that at a Michigan House hearing two weeks ago, Linder requested police protection as he left a hearing room full of jeering caregiver advocates.

“The threats against my family and house are over the top. We’ve had people go to my member’s houses,” Linder told Grown In.

NORML’s Thompson decried the threats. “It’s sad that people would make threats against anyone nowadays,” he said. Myself and my organization do not support threatening elected officials or anyone.”

But Brikho brushed aside Linder’s complaints as just more propaganda.

“Steve Linder is notorious for being a liar. I would not believe 3% of what comes out of Steve Linder’s mouth,” said Brikho.


Editor Mike is a co-founder and the editor of Grown In, a U.S. national cannabis industry newsletter and training company. His career has taken him from Capitol Hill to Chicago City Hall, from...