Boycott disrupts cannabis industry

Legislation involving caregiver rights spurs contentious standoff.
Jamie Cooper said some companies are included on the boycott list simply for doing business with companies that are members of the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association. Courtesy 616 Media

There are growing pains associated with any new industry, and cannabis is no exception.

An internet-based boycott has taken aim at a handful of cannabis brands in Michigan, mainly due to their association or agreement with policies aligned with the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association (MCMA).

According to the MCMA website, the association represents nearly half of multiple Class C cannabis licenses in the state and works to promote safety, transparency and accountability within the industry. The association has shed light on untested, illicit cannabis in the Michigan market that is not labeled, tracked or taxed, stating risk to jobs, businesses and opportunities. As such, the MCMA is now pushing for legislation to change caregiver rights in the state of Michigan.

Jamie Cooper, director of industry and community development and Michigan market director for Sensi Magazine, said the MCMA is lobbying to remove caregivers’ rights to legally grow 72 plants for themselves and up to five patients as part of a ballot-initiative-turned-law that was passed by Michigan voters in 2008.

Earlier this year, a boycott of the MCMA and affiliated businesses began in an attempt to stand up for caregiver rights, which many argue is where the industry began in the first place.

“Medical Mondays, a weekly YouTube podcast, has put together a boycott list that includes some of the companies that are part of the MCMA and support removing caregiver rights,” Cooper said. “However, there are several companies on the list, like Sensi Magazine and House of Dank, that have no affiliation with the MCMA and do not support the effort to remove caregiver rights.”

Cooper said there also are companies included on the boycott list simply for doing business with some of the companies that are members of the MCMA.

“Unfortunately, this mudslinging effort is now starting to hurt smaller businesses and is burning bridges with potential alliances. … The more effective approach is encouraging the caregiver community to build relationships with their legislators, who are the ones that have the power to change the current landscape,” Cooper said.

The initiative has garnered support from many licensed cannabis retailers and brands that are backing the initiative and have boycotted other Michigan brands and businesses as a result. 

The MCMA now offers a page on its website where individuals can “take action” by sending a pre-written letter to their state representatives or senators, encouraging them to approve House Bill 5300-5302, otherwise known as the Michigan Cannabis Safety Act. The bill, which was advanced to the Michigan House floor during the last week of October, would amend and restrict current medical caregiver growing rights, requiring them to test their plant yields and to apply for a specialty medical grower (SMG) license.

On Sept. 15, a caregiver rights rally was held on the steps of the Michigan Capitol to oppose the changes set forth in the proposed legislation.

“Because they are trying to change an initiative that was passed by the people, they need a three-quarters majority vote,” Cooper said. “I am hearing they don’t currently have the votes they need to get it out of the House.”

Cooper said if the bills pass, it would change the right to grow cannabis as a caregiver, but would not change Michigan residents’ right to grow 12 adult-use plants.

“It’s really sad because honestly the industry was built on caregivers,” said Narmin Jarrous, chief development officer for Exclusive Brands. “Caregivers started this industry and we relied on them so much, and now it feels like we’re kind of throwing them to the wolves. And so, while we obviously want products to be tested and safe for everybody, I feel like we’re really limiting caregivers’ abilities to help their patients. I feel like the plant limits and everything that they’re trying to enact are really counterproductive for success in this industry, and we’re really just kind of giving a priority to large corporations.”

Jarrous said while Exclusive has grown to become a large cannabis company, it started as a small, family-like business that has stuck to its ways and hasn’t lost sight of where it started.

“And I think a lot of people have, and it’s really heartbreaking,” Jarrous said.

Although any proposed changes to caregiver rights now are in the hands of Michigan legislators, boycotts and friction between Michigan cannabis industry professionals and consumers continues.

“Right now, I think it’s important we work together as a community and start building bridges, instead of burning them,” Cooper said.

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