Now that it can be legally sold in Michigan, Greg Francisco is looking forward to the prospect of cashing in on the state's emerging medical marijuana industry.
He may even move from Kalamazoo to Detroit, where he thinks the growth will take off.
"This is a multimillion dollar industry that is just opening up," said Francisco, a retired school teacher who insists medical marijuana isn't the same pot that some smoked in high school or college. Years of careful cultivation have led to a fluffy, fragrant variety, he says while opening a medicine bottle.
Medical marijuana is already a flourishing industry that is only going to get bigger in Michigan, Francisco and other advocates say. Since November, when voters made Michigan the 13th state to legalize it, opportunists have been organizing, networking and creating businesses to grow the crop, deliver it to the patients and everything in between.
Growers, dubbed caregivers, and their patients must be licensed with the state. They may supply up to five patients and can earn about $50,000 annually, estimates Brad Forrester, spokesman for the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association.
The earning potential for those in ancillary businesses, such as greenhouse supplies, software or hemp clothing, will be significantly higher, Forrester said.
"There are going to be people who are making millions of dollars, literally," Forrester said.
The Michigan Medical Marijuana Chamber of Commerce sprouted up in Ann Arbor in recent months, along with compassion clubs for the 3,000 state-registered patients, 1,100 caregivers and numerous support organizations. This weekend, 5,000 people are expected at Michigan's first Medical Marijuana Expo, which will offer information and seminars on the law, educational opportunities and tools for start-ups.
"We can help save the state with cannabis," said Anthony Freed, executive director of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Chamber of Commerce. "We would be irresponsible if we did not explore the possibilities."
It's difficult to assess the economic impact of medical marijuana, even in California, where it has been legal since 1996.
But the overall marijuana industry in California is estimated to be valued at $14 billion, according to a state report commissioned by Assembly Member Tom Ammiano.
He proposes to legalize marijuana there and tax every ounce $50, so that it can generate $1.38 billion in revenue for California. Meanwhile, Oakland, Calif., last month became the first city in the nation to tax medical marijuana dispensaries. But Michigan is not as progressive, some say.
Advocates here are still leery about recent law enforcement action. It's partly why Sen. Wayne Kuipers proposed three bills in the Legislature in June. Although medical marijuana leaders say the proposals would gut the new law, Kuipers said they just seek to clarify vague issues within the law.
"We're trying to work through the unanswered questions," said Kuipers, R-Holland.
Regardless, outsiders and insiders are taking a closer look at the economic opportunities.
Los Angeles-based developers of Cannabis, a $2.99 iPhone application, are working with the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association and others to expand information about local attorneys, clinics and meetings into the application's database.
"The whole motivation is to empower medical cannabis patients and the global hemp community to use mobile technology so people can find the resources they need," said co-developer Devin Calloway.
Closer to home, clinics have opened in Southfield, Taylor, Detroit, Flint, Lansing and Ypsilanti to issue doctor recommendations for medical marijuana when a patient's family doctor won't.
"We're really excited to help people," said Amber Rogers, spokeswoman for Great Lakes Marijuana, which runs a clinic in Southfield.
Detroiter Kenneth Baker came to the state medical marijuana headquarters earlier this week to sign up for three classes at the expo. Baker, a postal worker who will retire in three years, plans to run a business and is investigating medical marijuana as an option.
"If medical marijuana takes off, having the knowledge in the industry might give me the edge to be successful," Baker said. "I want to be one of those guys who started early and got in on it."
To some, such as Brian Johnson, the burgeoning industry is not about money.
Johnson, a cancer survivor, discovered medical marijuana after one chemotherapy session. Unable to eat or drink for three weeks, Johnson smoked marijuana to ease his nausea. Within an hour, he was eating a hamburger.
Johnson, a Grosse Isle resident, is now approved to grow marijuana plants for himself and another patient, and plans to help others find relief.
"After I proved to myself it worked medicinally," said Johnson, "I decided to devote my life to it."
August 8, 2009
Medical marijuana producers see bright future for entrepreneurs