So much attention is spent on the great progress that is being made on the East Coast, that we sometimes forget to acknowledge the truly historic changes that are transforming the country’s heartland. As wise approach this Independence Day, those of us in the marijuana reform movement and legal cannabis industry have much to celebrate. Roll fireworks, spark legal sparklers.
I grew up in the conservative Midwest dreaming of more. Weaned on the music and poetry of Bob Dylan and John Lennon, rock & roll and marijuana sustained me during my formative years in the Indiana of the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, Midwesterners had little hope that legalization would ever really come to our bible belt. Hell, you couldn’t even buy beer on Sundays, or buy a lottery ticket in the Hoosier state.
As soon as I could, I fled the flatlands of Indiana– first for the Central African Republic as a Peace Corp volunteer, and later to the libertine coastal towns of New York City and Seattle. In New York, I learned the business of media and marketing. At Rolling Stone Magazine, and SPIN and AOL Time Warner, I received a first-class education on building pop culture brands and established a network of lifetime friends and colleagues.
In Seattle, I found my people in a culture of bountiful marijuana and progressive politics. The Pacific Northwest was where the hippies washed up. In the cool forests and high-tech valleys of the Puget Sound, I found a society that had socialized, if not yet fully legalized, the use of cannabis. The PNW was rich in cannabis culture, and with extensive plant expertise, and established community, but no real business infrastructure. With legalization, and the complexities of compliance that come with it, we established the Marijuana Business Association to meet the many needs of those early business pioneers. We were privileged to be able to help establish one of the first legal cannabis markets, and a build a very vibrant community of cannabis business professionals that has allowed us to take that knowledge and expertise across the country as new markets opened.
Now, five years after those first market places began, we have established legal cannabis communities on both Coasts, and even in the Midwest. Public opinion is firmly on our side, and even Congress has come around – with several bills currently circulating with bi-partisan support that will further unravel the age of prohibition. By every indication, the country is moving towards legalizing marijuana for both medical and commercial use. The Senate, led by Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, has passed the 2018 Farm Bill which includes Hemp farming provisions that De-schedule Hemp and allow American hemp farmers to take advantage of a booming global market (insert link). We are about to embark on the hemp century, and that portends great things for the Midwest.
What a great time then to steer the CannaFest Destiny Tour – the educational tour that Curved Papers and the MJBA have been on for the last two years – to Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.
We began our trip in Michigan, the land of a thousand dispensaries. Second largest medical cannabis market in the country — with more than 300,000 patients — Michiganders will vote on full legalization in November, and the local cannabis activists are feeling confident in success.
But for now, Michigan and the High Times Cannabis Cup was all about Medical Marijuana. For starters, you had to be 18+, and possess a medical card to get in. We arrive at the racetrack in the pouring rain. Navigating the muddy parking lot, we are greeted with long lines and quickly learn that there is a strict, if indecipherable, wristband hierarchy in play. Super VIPs have replaced VIPs. And If you ain’t Super VIP, you are only slightly above the great unwashed. A strict canna-class system is in full evidence: High Times hogs ride around on ATVs, vested security guards checks wristbands to ensure to unauthorized entrance into meager VIP – with its tubs of free Flynt Water Bottles water, a free t-shirt, and a place to get sit down and medicate – and slightly better Super VIP tented areas.
High Times Michigan was held at the Auto City Raceway in Clio, a former dirt track turned asphalt flea market for weed smokers, er I mean, patients. The venue was packed, despite the rain, and the track was lined with every flavor of entrepreneurs eager to serve a hungry crowd. Corn dogs and infused coffee, dabs (called wax in Michigan), edibles and local flower, lots of flower were available in an endless circle of booths and trailers. Just don’t look for alcohol. Despite the permanent venue advertising that lined the track, there was no booze available at the track. Instead, we found the nicest crowd you ever saw – a blissed out army of stoned zombies gathered together for a day of smoking marijuana and singing songs in the Midwest muck. We had a blast.
After two days in at the laidback track, we made our way southward to Cleveland, Ohio. The vibe changed drastically once we crossed the border into the Buckeye State. Despite passing into law two years ago, medical marijuana remains legal, but unavailable. Through corruption and incompetence, the state has hemmed, hawed and delayed the process so that the mandated September launch will be pushed back for who knows how long. As a result, the members of the cannabis community – advocates, educators, patients and healthcare professionals – are justifiably frustrated.
This was the setting for the inaugural meetup of the MJBA Cleveland chapter. Sponsored by MaryJane Staffing Agency and hosted at the offices of Meyers Roman, the event was attended by a small but passionate crowd of lawyers, entrepreneurs, educators and advocates, and covered in the Cannabis Business Times.
Attorney Steven Baden gave the attendees an overview of where the state stood with the rollout of its medical marijuana program (he expects delays to last until the first of the year), and MaryJane President Michelle Blank outlined the hundreds of new jobs and career opportunities for participants in Ohio’s legal cannabis system. Entrepreneur Michael O’Malley shared his story of innovation, and opportunity for product marketers in the lucrative ancillary arena.
Back to the beginning of my personal quest, Indiana is also the last frontier for legal cannabis. But even in Pence’s Indiana, there are rays of freedom breaking through. The current Governor has signed the law legalizing CBD, and a few brave politicians are standing up for legalization. At the First Church of Cannabis in Indianapolis, Grand Poohbah Bill Levin is awaiting a judge’s decision that could legalize Cannabis as a religious sacrament.
But for now, there is no cannabis in sight as the Cannafest Destiny Tour participated in the Church’s weekly Wednesday services. Before the services, we receive a call to remind those of us from legal states that we cannot bring our weed onto church grounds.
But inside the classic Indiana Church building, a warm congregation (made even warmer as the air conditioning was on the fritz on the hot and humid Hoosier evening) welcomed us. In addition to an inspiring sermon by Grand Poohbah Levin, we are treated to testimony from Indiana NORML Chairman Neil Smith, and members of the congregation. Curved Papers founder Michael O’Malley delivered an inspiring talk about the birth of a cannabis brand, and I was able to tell my personal story.
As we left Indiana, the congregants of the First Church of Cannabis are on pins and needles. (as we publish this, the Judge has pushed back the date to render her decision until July 9th). Levin, ever the advocate for LOVE, told me that he is confident that history is on his side.
Stay tuned to these pages…