Michigan House TV

Steve Linder, executive director of the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers’ Association, testifies before the Michigan House Committee on Regulatory Reform on May 3, 2021.

Because Michigan is not a limited license state, multiple perspectives and sometimes opposing advocacy groups have formed. One of those groups, the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers’ Association (MCMA) represents the state’s largest cultivators and sometimes opposes other, more traditional cannabis advocacy groups in the state legislature.

Grown In interviewed Steve Linder, a long-time denizen of Michigan politics, and a Republican activist, who leads the MCMA. Linder, we found, isn’t necessarily opposed to more industry regulation.

Grown In: There have been a number of structural changes proposed to Michigan’s cannabis laws, like merging adult-use and medical laws. But most everything requires a 75% vote in both houses. Can anything be passed under these circumstances?

Steve Linder: Yes, of course. You have to make a strong case. One of the issues that we face is we have three laws. We have the 2008 Michigan medical marijuana law which legalized it. And then the 2016 law, which created the regulatory system that one doesn’t require three-quarters vote. And then there was the 2018 adult use ballot initiative. But quite frankly most of the changes that are being proposed alter the 2008 law and alter the 2018 law. And so both of those require three-quarters vote. 

So, you have to be very strategic about the things that you want to do statutorily. Then, they have to be changes that are broadly impactful. Broadly beneficial to the people of Michigan and the industry. And all of them have to be backed up with a tremendous amount of data and information and case statements. 

But, yes, they can be changed and because the three laws don’t work all that well together, we have to commit ourselves to making those changes. 

GI: New municipalities have been slow to allow cannabis facilities, while MRA has been increasing its municipal outreach. Is there some other incentive the state could be employing?

Linder: I’m not sure. I mean, I have not spoken to local units of government to the degree that would allow me to understand why there isn’t a faster pace. Part of it is just cultural. Legalization, is one thing: Not jailing people. But, the decision to cite facilities in your community, especially cannabis retailers that are out on the street, is a whole different set of issues. And polling has shown that the public still needs to come along to be educated as to the benefits of having those facilities in their community in terms of investment jobs and safe tested product.

The other incentive is money. These laws have built in financial incentives and maybe it’s not enough! I don’t know. 

I really haven’t delved into that issue but you got the cultural issue. A lot of these communities have had ballot initiatives to try, by the ballot, create ordinances and almost all of them have lost.

So, what does that tell you? The public still is not quite accepting of this new business.

GI: If you had to predict the outcome of the lawsuit against Detroit legacy law, what would it be?

I have no idea. I don’t know, I just read newspaper articles about it, but I I don’t know enough about it to offer an opinion. And I would hate to speculate and be wrong.

GI: Out of state multi-state operators have yet to establish much of a presence in Michigan. Why is that?

Linder: I don’t know. We have a number of multi-state operators coming into Michigan and so it’s a matter of degree what is too many or what is not enough. So, the answer is: I don’t know. I’ve not spoken to any multi-state operators that for some reason haven’t put Michigan on their list. So I don’t want to speculate on a reason why.

GI: Michigan has some of the most stringent cannabis testing laws in the country. Is that a good or bad thing for industry in the state?

Linder: I think it’s outstanding. This stuff is either inhaled or ingested. Every other product that is inhaled or ingested, whether it be cigarettes, whether it be alcohol, whether it be pharmaceuticals, whether it be cereal on the shelf of the drugstore, have to go through rigorous processes to assure quality and purity. 

When you go and open up a can of beer, or you go and pour a box of cereal, you do it without even thinking about whether or not it’s going to make you sick, right? And the same level of confidence has to be created in products that are distributed by the regulated industry. 

Because there’s no FDA right now, it’s really up to the states, to assure quality and purity and create consumer confidence. 

Look at the Vitamin E acetate vape pens. Perfect example! Where nobody knew what was in it. It was cut with stuff that started making people sick and dying. That’s not what we want. That’s not going to cause people to want to buy these products.

Our association has got several major pillars of value propositions and one of those is adhering to strict growing processing and safety standards. 

GI: Imagine this scenario: The Michigan legislature has decided to meet to pass any laws you want. Name two of them.

Linder: Well, the first law that I would want to pass is a law that would start to get at the non-licensed supply out in the marketplace. We have a huge supply of cannabis that’s not in the licensed marketplace. And it’s not tested. We don’t know where it’s grown, we don’t know who’s growing it. People are not employing, they’re not investing in infrastructure, they’re not paying taxes. So, we have to get at the unregulated supply and that law needs to be passed. And we’re going to lead the charge. 

GI: Are you talking specifically about caregivers or is this the overall illegal market because the overall illegal market is very difficult to pin down.

Linder: No, I understand. Law enforcement has a very vital role to play. But there are two types of distribution systems that don’t test, that don’t create jobs, and don’t pay taxes. One is the totally illegal marketplace. And then the gray area. 

We think everything should be in the regulated marketplace. Caregivers should be able to do what they were supposed to do. And they helped create the initial marketplace. Law enforcement is going to need clarity so that they know what their prerogatives are to crack down on totally illegal marijuana. 

GI: Have you ever tried to quantify the size of that gray market? 

Linder: We’re working on a study right now that we’re going to release within two weeks. It’ll be the first baseline economic study of the cannabis marketplace that’s been done. 

GI: That should be very interesting. What’s the second law? 

Linder: I think that the second law is not really a law but it’s what you referenced earlier. I believe that the medical and the adult-use statutes need to be merged, aligned, and streamlined.

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Editor Mike is an itinerate reporter, recovering political consultant, and strategy game devotee.