Transcend microbusiness owners Rick Anstiss, kneeling, and Jay Terpin, in black shirt, with members of their staff. Co-owners Andrew Hysell and Anthony Perrine are not pictured.

Rick Anstiss and his partners manage the day-to-day operations of their newly-opened Hartford, Michigan cannabis microbusiness, Transcend, applying both science and spirituality to plant cultivation. 

Michigan’s adult-use microbusiness licenses are not popular, with only seven licenses issued out of the thousands of other licenses distributed by Michigan cannabis regulators. Critics say the microbusiness model is flawed, because the number of plants allowed, 150, is too low. But Anstiss and his partners, Andrew Hysell, Jay Terpin, and Anthony Perrine, say they are setting themselves apart from others in the industry through their strains and cultivation process.

For instance, at Transcend, each plant is carefully tended and prayed over throughout its life cycle.

The partners enjoy the small space and take full advantage of the opportunity to craft products.

“We are craft cannabis, therefore being from the caregiver model, which is kind of what this particular kind of licensure was set up for. It’s for caregivers to find a way in,” he said.

Located in Southwest Michigan, near St. Joseph, Transcend’s license allows for growing, processing and on-site sales of adult-use cannabis. Anstiss says he’s growing it, however, from a caregiver’s standpoint.

“I’m able to create a great medicine that’s essentially just being sold as recreational,” Anstiss said. “Unlike the larger grows, we are smaller and have great hands-on ability with the plants. I think it makes a big difference in your output.”

With the microbusiness license, Transcend is sharply limited in the number of plants they can grow. A regulation loophole made it possible for them to bring in starter plants from previous caregiver operations.

“So, if somebody has specific strains which I did, then we would be able to get them in there,” he said.

Anstiss and his partners work with clones and also grow from seed. Besides growing their 150 plants, Transcend also processes wax extractions in house

“Our motto is ‘Where Science Meets the Spirit,’ said Anstiss. “It basically means that we’ve taken this plant and cultivated it and we’ve used science to enhance it’s natural abilities. So, we look at our test results and we’re very diligent on the numbers.”

Unlike many larger growers, who tend to produce six or seven terpene profiles, Anstiss and his partners claim they are capable of pulling 13 to 15 terpene profiles out of their strains.

“That ability is huge in my opinion,” Anstiss said. “It’s [just an] opinion right now because there’s no science to back it, but the terpene profile is much more vital than any THC value or CBD. I only say that in the sense that, I believe CBD and THC have more carrier value to these terpene profiles. So, however it enters the body and how it acts, I believe THC and CBD gives it more of its longevity effect. As a craft grower, we get to play with science and learn about it more and more.”

Anstiss and his partners applied for their license in January 2021 and opened the door to their business last month, in October.

Though the process in obtaining the license went smoothly, financial support is something Anstiss would like regulator help for finding solutions.

“Michigan is a little bit expensive,” Anstiss said about startup expenses. “We were aiming in the ballpark of $700,000 or so but wound up in the realm of $900,000 or so. Like with many of the other licences, you’re still looking at a hefty startup bite. Michigan should try and find ways to make it easier for the public to gain access into the industry.”

Other problems they faced involved lining up contractors, architects, inspectors, and the regulations.

As the team goes about their daily operations, they are aware of news that multi-state operators may be angling to change Michigan legislation in their favor.

“There is an impressive move by big cannabis to minimize and harm the caregiver model, which in turn would also have an effect on microgrowers and the ability for people to get into them,” Anstiss said, referring to recent proposed legislation to curtail caregivers. “In my opinion, cannabis is so broad and so unique of an industry that we don’t have to worry about all that competition that so many others do. I know that big cannabis will and always worry about every percent they can possibly gain. As long as I have my craft grower community, my 20 to 40 customers, that’s all I need to sustain.”

Michigan first legalized cannabis in 2008, by allowing small caregivers to grow and provide medical cannabis to registered patients.

“My friends and I wrote the bills ourselves,” Rick Thompson, executive director of Michigan NORML said. “We created it to be friendly to small businesses and not to multi-state operators. So, we see a lot of manipulation from multi-states trying to change the system to be more favorable to their model because Michigan is the second largest market for cannabis in America.”

Already, Michigan has sold more than $1 billion of legal cannabis in 2021, with a high chance of doubling that amount in the next two years, if sales continue to grow apace.

Thompson believes the regulatory environment is bad for microbusiness license holders.

“The microbusiness license is flawed in the way that it’s created and it’s not a very profitable business model,” Thompson explained. “However, there’s a new microbusiness license coming out called the Class A microbusiness which would be much more competitive and will give the microbusinesses a much greater chance at success. We’re very excited and very supportive of this new Class A micro.”

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.