How Michigan’s weed industry has budded into a booming, headline-grabbing market

As the cannabis lovers’ favorite holiday passes through another year, WWMT is taking a look at the booming weed industry that has developed in Michigan over the last decade and a half.

The marijuana industry as the Wolverine State now knows it started in 2008, when the Michigan Medical Marijuana Initiative was approved overwhelmingly with the support of 63% of voters. The initiative allowed seriously or terminally ill patients to use marijuana after receiving a doctor’s approval, also creating the state’s patient and caregiver registration capabilities.

By 2016, former Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, signed a bill package that, in part, legalized non-smokable cannabis products such as edibles and allowed medical cannabis dispensaries to open in the state.

Voters again reiterated support for cannabis access in 2018, after a ballot measure to legalize recreational use was approved with 56% of the vote, making Michigan the first state in the Midwest to legalize recreational marijuana use.

In the last 15 years, what was once a plant strictly available for medical purposes has become a widespread recreational hobby and habit for many Michiganders 21 and older.

Leonard Smith and his in-laws opened up the first Black-owned cannabis business in Battle Creek in 2021, soft-launching during the COVID-19 pandemic as one of thousands of pot businesses that were popping up around the Mitten.

There are currently 3,188 active marijuana businesses in Michigan, according to the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Agency.

Against tough odds, Smith’s CannaVibes Emporium is one of them.

“I feel like we’re doing really well and I think we’re just now really starting to hit our stride,” said Smith, CannaVibes’ general manager.

CannaVibes has survived through an increasingly competitive weed market that’s seen some major bankruptcies recently, and in an industry that’s being regulated as it grows.

Describing Michigan’s cannabis industry as “budding” would be a serious understatement, with the state last year raking in $325 million in taxes from medical and recreational sales.

Brian Hanna, executive director for the Cannabis Regulatory Agency, said it’s possible that the state could be bringing in half a billion dollars in taxes by next year: “We have sales records that break up here every three to four months in the state of Michigan.”

Regulations for the industry have been growing with it, creating a unique set of challenges and opportunities, he said.

It’s exciting,” he added. “It’s kind of like you have this canvas and you get to create something for the first time. It’s kind of like the Bob Ross painting of creating something new.

Chris Rosmarin, principal of Rehmann and leader of the company’s cannabis practices, said a root issue with the industry is the lack of predictability.

In early April, former House Speaker Rick Johnson and three others were charged over bribes the federal attorneys said were paid through marijuana licenses. Johnson has since pleaded guilty to taking over $100,000 in bribes.

Industry experts say to anticipate more consolidation in the future, along with the enforcement of regulations.

“You know if there are those that are breaking the rules and involved in this and are still operating, we are going to pursue disciplinary action,” said Hanna, when asked about the bribery scandal. “This is not something that’s acceptable.”

Small, family-owned businesses like CannaVibes know they will have to keep loyal customers to stick around, but Smith said he feels confident they will make it.

“Just the fact that we have sustained for the time that we have, and we’re not showing any signs of slowing up whatsoever,” he said.

Everyone WWMT spoke with agreed that there is no sign of the cannabis industry slowing down, either.

“You’re gonna see a consistency in sales records being broken. You know, the demand is there,” Hanna said.

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