NBA Icon Chris Webber Unveils Detroit Cannabis Facility

NBA Hall of Famer and entrepreneur Chris Webber on Tuesday broke ground on Players Only Holdings, a $50 million cannabis production and training facility in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. Once completed, the new facility sitting on nine acres near the Detroit River is expected to create hundreds of jobs over the next three years.

Co-founded by Webber with fellow entrepreneur Lavetta Willis, Players Only is a Black-owned business focused on cannabis cultivation, real estate development, brand partnerships and creative content development and management. The 180,000 square foot Players Only facility, dubbed the Webber Wellness Compound, will include a 60,000-square-foot cannabis cultivation operation, an 8,000-square-foot cannabis dispensary and a private consumption lounge. 

At Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony, Webber announced the creation of a distribution partnership for Players Only branded products with Gage Growth Corp., a leading, Michigan-licensed cannabis operator headed by CEO Fabian Monaco.

“This will be the shining jewel of Michigan. Everything great in Michigan starts in Detroit, and I am excited to collaborate with Gage to bring our premium line of Players Only products to this community,” former Detroit Piston star Webber said in a statement from Players Only. “Gage is the HOF of cannabis operations. With Fabian Monaco as a teammate, this relationship is a winner on every level.”

Courtesy of Players Only Holdings

Cookies U Comes To Michigan

Webber also took the opportunity to reveal the Detroit expansion of cannabis training program Cookies U, founded by rapper and cannabis mogul Berner in partnership with The WebberWildWillis Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on uplifting and enriching Black and Brown communities negatively impacted by the War on Drugs. In a statement, Berner characterized the state of Michigan as “one of the most important markets in the cannabis industry.”

NBA
Courtesy of Players Only Holdings

“Detroit is the first city we opened a flagship store in, outside of California. I have to salute Chris Webber, Jason Wild and Lavetta Willis for supporting our vision to build out Cookies U in Humboldt California and extending the program to Detroit, which happens to be Chris’s hometown,” said Berner, co-founder and CEO of Cookies. “Michigan has always been an advanced and educated market, and we couldn’t be more excited to offer underrepresented people an opportunity to learn the industry from seed to sale.”

Cookies U is a hands-on, fee-free training program that will recruit students from underserved communities and prepare them for jobs in the cannabis industry, including access to a GED program with a financial literacy component. In addition to the educational curriculum, a job-placement program will help graduates find employment in Michigan’s booming legal cannabis market.

“This Detroit training and operations facility is only the first step in bringing tangible opportunities to the people of this city—one that means so much to me—while eliminating barriers to an industry with unlimited economic potential,” Webber said. 

“We will create, foster and provide a cannabis ecosystem that celebrates diversity, creates jobs and benefits this community—focusing intensely on those who are being left behind. As social equity programs struggle in many states, we are here to support legacy operators who created the foundation for this industry so that they are included in future iterations of it while we wait on the politics to catch up.”

Construction on the first phase of the Webber Wellness Compound is expected to begin this fall, with work slated to wrap up by March 2022. A $125 million second phase, which as of yet has no announced timeline, will expand the cultivation area by 80,000 square feet.

“This is my biggest priority in life,” Webber said. “I’ve seen who (Willis) and I have helped across the country and the lives that have been disrupted by cannabis. Hopefully, we can do a little bit of repairing. Hopefully, we can help the city.”

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Michigan Legislature Introduces Bills to Reduce Caregiver Program

Michigan lawmakers proposed three bills yesterday that aim to reduce what caregivers can provide for medical cannabis patients.

The Michigan legislature returned full-time on September 9, and House Bills 5300, 5301 and 5302 were introduced on September 14. This bill package seeks to alter the Medical Marihuana Act, which was initially implemented in 2008. If passed, the bills would reduce caregiver patients from five to only one, and reduce the number of plants a caregiver can grow from 60 to 12, with an additional 12 plants they’re allowed to grow for personal use. One of the bills also creates a license called “specialty medical grower,” which would require a $500 application to get cannabis tested.

According to Mlive.com, these bills were proposed one day before a protest was set to occur. Yesterday, the “Michigan Caregivers United: Rally at the Capitol” protest was held in front of the state capitol in Lansing. The march was held to protest the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturer’s Association (MCMA) and its push to limit caregiver’s allowances for their patients. 

“Michigan’s cannabis consumers have lashed out in anger; a boycott of MCMA products and companies affiliated with them has resulted in the resignation of their president, the removal of any reference to individual members on their website, the election of a new board chair to clean up their public relations and the cancellation of orders from MCMA companies by retailers.” The protest has been in the works for some time, with an official press release announcement posted on July 8 in anticipation of these plans.

The MCMA released a study in June through the Anderson Economic Group stating that 70 percent of cannabis sales were made outside of regulated dispensaries, and that illegal sales are the main way that residents are obtaining cannabis. 

“Michigan’s unregulated cannabis market poses an immediate threat to the health of all Michiganders, and the Michigan Cannabis Safety Act updates outdated laws to help ensure all Michiganders have access to tested, tracked and labeled cannabis products,” MCMA Board Chair Shelly Edgerton told Mlive.com

“We look forward to working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to bring Michigan’s unregulated, unlicensed cannabis market in line with the rest of the cannabis industry to help ensure safe, high-quality cannabis is available for all Michiganders.”

The MCMA’s website states that the organization represents “nearly half of all multiple Class C cannabis licenses in Michigan,” which is the most expensive license type, and represents the largest cultivation businesses in the state.

Those who oppose this notion argue that caregivers are not responsible for black market sales, and that there’s no good reason to threaten the caregiver system. Over 250 companies have spoken out in favor of supporting the caregiver program as well as small businesses. Companies such as The Botanical Co. released official statements regarding the MCMA. 

“We stand with our fellow industry professionals in their efforts to stop the attack on caregivers. It is our belief that our industry thrives when small businesses and caregivers can flourish,” officials said in a statement. “Our customers and patients remain at the core of what we do and to ensure they continue to have access to the products they rely on, we are actively pursuing the sourcing of high quality products from companies that more align with our mission. We encourage local brands to contact us if they are interested in retail space at our stores. Together, we can make a difference and move our industry forward.”

According to the Marijuana Regulatory Agency in a July report, there are 30,229 caregivers in the state and 251,284 medical cannabis patients that they serve. A majority of these patients suffer from conditions such as chronic pain, arthritis, muscle spasms and PTSD. Meanwhile, the state is taking many steps toward improving social equity and supporting residents’ rights to consume while off the job.

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Michigan Agency Launches Social Equity Program to Tackle Essential Issues

The Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) launched a new program to improve social equity in the state’s cannabis industry.

On August 31, the MRA launched the Joint Ventures Pathway Program (JVPP), which is the culmination of an organized discussion that was held earlier this year. 

“Based on a recommendation made by the Racial Equity Advisory Workgroup earlier this year, the JVPP will connect eligible social equity participants—and those seeking to become social equity participants—with adult-use licensees, potential adult-use licensees, and any businesses that wish to work with social equity participants interested in pursuing partnerships, including: joint business ventures, mentorships, incubator program, employment,” the MRA’s statement reads.

When the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act passed in 2018 by voter approval, it stated that the MRA was in charge of creating and enforcing all laws related to commercial cannabis businesses. It also directed the MRA to “create a plan to promote and encourage participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and to positively impact those communities.”

The MRA’s press release states that the law’s language was not enough to satisfy the needs for social equity in Michigan, so it created the Racial Equity Advisory Workgroup in 2020. The group was made up of local officials, state officials and “industry stakeholders,” such as Representative Sarah Anthony, Senator Marshall Bullock and business owners Anqunette Sarah and Tatiana Grant.  

This group met in July 2020 through December 2020 before releasing its final recommendations in January 2021

“The MRA is committed to making Michigan the model agency in the country, including being a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion in the marijuana industry,” said Andrew Brisbo, MRA executive director, in a press release publishing the group’s final recommendations and explaining their plan for the organization. “As the agency responsible for implementing and administering the laws governing commercial licensure, the MRA recognizes the importance of equity in opportunity for businesses operating in this newly legalized industry.” 

The recommendations included 30 pages of what the state’s social equity model should look like, through the categories of social justice, business development, local equity, process and pathways, resource deployment and strategic partnerships (each category was assigned a team of four to five individuals). It focuses on how social equity could create a more inclusive industry for the state. 

In detail, the workgroup organized concepts for their respective category, identified any statutory or administrative rule changes that are needed, talked about where funding would come from and established specific responsibilities for the MRA.

According to data from Bureau of Justice Statistics, 80 percent in federal prison and 60 percent of people in state prison, who were incarcerated because of a drug offense, are Black or Latino. 

Results from data released by the MRA show that in 2020, only 3.8 percent of cannabis business owners were Black, and only 1.5 percent were Latino.

If you’re a Michigan resident and social equity eligible individual who’s interested in partnering with the JVPP, you can go here to submit your information. Likewise, if you’re a Michigan business owner who seeks to partner with social equity participants, you can become a JVPP partner here.

Michigan is already being noticed as one of the country’s thriving cannabis markets. Not only are efforts for social equity well under way, but the industry’s product variety and selection is rapidly growing.

State officials are working quickly to address industry concerns, such as the regulation of Delta-8 THC products. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel published a brief earlier this month that those who are fired for off-the-job cannabis consumption should still qualify for unemployment.

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Cannabis Legalization Makes New Advances in the Midwest

The push to legalize cannabis in the Midwest is making new advances, with lawmakers in Wisconsin introducing a new bill and Ohio activists amending language for a proposed legalization measure. Meanwhile, regional early adopters Illinois and Michigan continue to post strong recreational marijuana sales with record-breaking months in July.

Last week, a group of Wisconsin lawmakers appeared at a cannabis dispensary in Illinois (where adult-use cannabis is legal) to unveil a bill that would legalize marijuana in the Badger State. Under the bill, adults 21 and over would be permitted to purchase and use recreational cannabis while adults 18 and up with debilitating health conditions would be allowed access to medical marijuana. Younger patients would be permitted to use cannabis medicinally with parental consent. Wisconsin currently has no provisions for legal cannabis, even as it is surrounded by four states with at least some form of legalized marijuana.

The lawmakers gathered at the Sunnyside dispensary in South Beloit, Illinois — only about 1,000 feet from the state border — to illustrate how many of the business’s customers are coming from Wisconsin. On an average day, half of the cars in the Sunnyside parking lot have Wisconsin license plates, according to South Beloit Mayor Ted Rehl. At last week’s unveiling of the bill, Democratic Sen. Melissa Agard, who is the sponsor of the bill in the state Senate, said that cannabis legalization would be a good move for Wisconsin.

“Legalizing and taxing cannabis in Wisconsin just like we already do with alcohol ensures a controlled, safe market for our communities,” Agard said.

Fellow Democrat and Wisconsin State Assembly Rep. David Bowen noted that Wisconsin’s drug prohibition laws have not been enforced fairly and equitably.

“Under the failed war on drugs, enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws have disproportionately impacted communities of color,” said Bowen, the lead author of the legalization bill. “When an individual is arrested for nonviolent possession of marijuana, they are driven from their jobs, from their families and driven from their communities.”

Despite a 2019 Marquette University Law School poll showing that 59% of Wisconsin’s registered voters support cannabis legalization, approval of the bill in the state’s Republican-led legislature does not seem likely, according to media reports. Agard said that the sponsoring lawmakers will be circulating the bill for two weeks in order to gain co-sponsors before moving forward with the legislation.

Ohio Activists Resubmit Cannabis Legalization Petition Summary

In Ohio, citizens rather than lawmakers are leading the drive to legalize cannabis for recreational use. The cannabis reform group the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol resubmitted petition language for a proposed legalization measure. In early August, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost rejected an earlier draft of a summary of the proposal, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess, purchase, use and grow marijuana. After reviewing the proposal to ensure it was a “fair and truthful” description of the law, Yost cited a list of seven deficiencies in the summary and returned it to supporters for correction. The attorney general wrote, for example, that the summary did not adequately explain the “cannabis social equity and jobs program” and did not clearly indicate that home growers are limited to possessing up to six cannabis plants.

“In total, the summary does not properly advise a potential signer of a proposed measure’s character and limitations,” Yost wrote in a letter to the group’s attorney.

Last Friday, supporters of the proposal resubmitted the summary after addressing the deficiencies noted by Yost.

“We appreciate the attorney general’s feedback on our initial filing, and have fully addressed the issues flagged in this updated filing” coalition spokesman Tom Haren said in a news release.

Once the summary is approved, supporters of the legalization proposal will be able to begin collecting petition signatures from Ohio registered voters. If the group collects at least 132,887 valid signatures, the proposal will head to the Ohio General Assembly for consideration. If lawmakers fail to approve the measure, supporters could collect an additional 132,887 signatures to place the proposal before voters, perhaps as soon as the Nov. 2022 general election.

Midwest Cannabis Sales Break Records

If Wisconsin and Ohio successfully join the ranks of the states that have legalized cannabis in the Midwest, they will be able to tap into a market that continues to grow for the region’s early adopters of marijuana policy reform. On Aug. 3, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation reported that adult-use cannabis sales totaled $127.8 million in July, breaking a state record set only two months earlier by 10 percent. Jason Erkes, spokesman for Chicago-based cannabis multistate operator Cresco Labs, said that visitors attending the Lollapalooza music festival at the end of the month helped fuel the strong showing.

“Summer tourism and the Lollapalooza attendees were strong contributors to July’s out-of-state sales,” Erkes said.

Legal marijuana sales are breaking records in Michigan, as well. Last week, the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) released cannabis sales figures for July. Together, medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis sales totaled $171 million, generating more than $23 million in tax revenue. MRA executive director Andrew Brisbo characterized July’s cannabis sales as “Another record month!”

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Ann Arbor Approves Entheogenic and Fungi Awareness Month

In Michigan, Ann Arbor City Council members named September “Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month” on August 16.

Councilmembers Jeff Hayner and Kathy Griswold were two of the individuals who sponsored the effort. In a digital city council meeting, Councilmember Jeff Hayner explained the reasoning regarding why September is the month that was chosen. “With the assistance of our local advocates, we decided that September because September is when we passed our resolution effectively decriminalizing these plants, that September should be our local month, and that’s basically what this entails.”

The resolution text mentions that entheogenic plants could possibly help treat “substance abuse, addiction, recidivism, trauma, post-traumatic stress symptoms, chronic depression, severe anxiety, end-of-life anxiety, grief, cluster headaches and other debilitating conditions are present in our community,” thanks to clinical studies that have determined its effectiveness as a treatment for some conditions, as well as “personal spiritual growth.”

It also briefly describes the progress that have been made with substances like psilocybin, ibogaine and ayahuasca. “The FDA has granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation to Psilocybin for use in major depressive disorders; Psilocybin has been shown to ease treatment resistant depression, end-of-life anxiety, and cluster headaches, Ibogaine has been shown to be an effective treatment for opiate addiction, and Ayahuasca studies are currently underway to better understand its ability to address depression, and substance dependence…”

“I think it’s kind of exciting that we’re exploring these new boundaries, that we’re looking at alternatives to mental health solutions, improvements to mental health solutions and so on, and this is a part of it,” Hayner said toward the end of his proposal. “So I would appreciate your support on this…” All councilmembers present were in favor of approving the motion, with none opposed.

Ann Arbor Makes History

The local organization that Hayner mentioned is Decriminalize Nature Ann Arbor (often referred to as DNA2), which strives to decriminalize entheogenic plants in Ann Arbor “while restoring our connection to nature and improving human health, hope, and well-being.”

The group posted on Facebook it’s excitement for the new themed month to revolve around entheogenic plant education. “We are so pleased with Ann Arbor City Council’s vote to declare September Entheogenic Plant and Fungi awareness month. It shows their continued support of this local movement. September is gearing up to be a wonderful month here in Ann Arbor and throughout the whole state of Michigan.” 

DNA2 plans to hold its inaugural EntheoFest 2021 on September 19 at the University of Michigan at “the Diag” (a prominent meeting spot for many cannabis events, such as Ann Arbor Hash Bash) between 11:11am-2:22pm. The free event will last for three hours and will bring numerous speakers, live music and educational booths. The festival is set to occur nearly one year after the city of Ann Arbor voted to decriminalize entheogenic plants on September 21, 2020 in a unanimous vote.

DNA2 also plans to introduce a bill called “Decriminalize Nature Michigan” to the Senate this fall as well, with the intent to “effectively remove penalties for personal and communal use of Entheogens (defined as and naturally occurring plants, phenethylamines, or indole amines; and/or any preparation or mixture thereof).” 

The decriminalization of psychedelic substances in Ann Arbor is one of many successful attempts to bring attention to the unique properties of entheogenic plants. Denver, Colorado was the first city in the country to decriminalize psilocybin in May 2019, followed by Oakland, California which decriminalized psychedelics in June 2019. Oregon became the first state to legalize medical psilocybin on November 5, 2020. These are but a few examples of the nationwide effort to improve access to entheogenic plants with medicinal properties.

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Michigan AG Says Unemployment Benefits OK for Off-The-Job Pot Use

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel argued in a legal brief filed on Monday that workers who are fired for using cannabis off the job should be eligible for state unemployment benefits. The brief was filed with the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Appeals Commission, which is deciding the cases of three employees who were fired for testing positive for cannabis metabolites in drug screenings.

In the brief, Nessel wrote the commission’s decisions in the cases are of “statewide importance,” and that the issue “tests the State’s statutory commitments to worker protections and personal freedom.”

“The commission’s ruling on this issue will directly impact many law-abiding Michigan workers who may be terminated for the use of marijuana,” she said.

In two of the cases, an administrative law judge determined that the terminated employees were eligible for unemployment benefits under state law because marijuana is legal under the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (MRTMA), the cannabis legalization initiative passed by voters in 2018. In the third case, the judge ruled that a positive test for marijuana metabolites disqualified the worker for unemployment benefits.

Michigan Attorney General: Private Cannabis Use Not Misconduct

Nessel’s brief argues that employees fired for marijuana use that does not impact job performance are not disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits under the “misconduct’ or “illegal drugs” provisions of Michigan employment law. In the case of an HVAC worker who was fired after a minor collision in a company vehicle, the brief holds that the employee’s private use of marijuana did not constitute “misconduct connected with the individual’s work.”

“Of course, an employee discharged for knowingly using an intoxicating substance at work could be disqualified for benefits, whether the substance was a legal one like alcohol or marijuana, or an illegal one,” the attorney general’s office wrote in the brief. “But employers cannot use a code of acceptable conduct to avoid paying unemployment benefits to workers who, on their own time, engage in legal behavior the employer simply does not like.”

Nessel also argued that positive tests for marijuana use are not “drug tests” under Michigan law, which defines a drug test as a test to detect the “illegal use of a controlled substance.” The brief states that because marijuana is not an illegal drug, positive test results for marijuana are not legally drug tests and therefore not grounds for disqualification from benefits.

Additionally, while marijuana is still legal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, the brief notes that marijuana metabolites are not included in the legislation’s list of banned substances. The opinion is consistent with the administrative law judge’s ruling in one case, which found that while “the THC metabolite may be indicative of some exposure to marijuana in the past, it is not a controlled substance.”

Nessel noted that a ruling by the commission in favor of the employees would be in line with voters’ intentions as expressed through cannabis legalization.

“For too long, marijuana had been widely perceived by policymakers as a corrupter of the social fabric—a theory riddled with racial stereotypes and resulting in severe over-incarceration, among other things,” the attorney general wrote in the brief. “To close the chapter on this sordid history, the people broadly expressed their intent ‘to prevent arrest and penalty for personal possession and cultivation of marihuana’ with the adoption of the” MRTMA.

Nessel went on to write that the legalization bill protects workers’ right to legally consume cannabis.

“The people spoke loud and clear when they voted in 2018 to legalize marijuana once and for all,” Nessel said. “Nobody over 21 can be penalized or denied any right or privilege solely for legally using marijuana, and employers cannot control their employees’ private lives by calling the legal use of marijuana outside of work hours ‘misconduct’.”

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