Ann Arbor: City of Trees

No Second Chance For a First Impression

The number one thing that city of Ann Arbor, Michigan has got going for it at this moment is that they’re home to the Maize and Blue and not associated with the state sponsored pedophilia and sexual assault that is pervasive at Michigan State University. Luckily, A2 (A Squared) has much to enjoy aside from the constant feeling of superiority over Spartan Nation.

With no shortage of restaurants featured on gluttonous television shows, urban fairy doors and a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home that inspires awe and can be rented for events and overnight stays, A2 is as perfect for a getaway weekend with someone special as it is for four to six years of higher education.

Though marijuana isn’t featured anywhere on the city’s website or visitannarbor.org and likely won’t be used in future marketing materials, folks in the know are keenly aware that the effort to legalize cannabis statewide is rooted in Tree Town. The city is at the forefront of the midwestern marijuana movement with its sights on providing an influx of tax dollars to the stale Michigan economy.

Boulder of the Midwest?

Ann Arbor is a little less white, a little more conservative and certainly not as majestic as Boulder, Colorado. Nonetheless the two cities feature a similar vibe and ethos. Small business and locally sourced goods are preferred to mass-produced misery while the local university provides a steady stream of eager students and young professionals to the work force ready to pay off their loans.

As strongholds of liberal activism both locations have rich and valuable history with cannabis and the legalization movement dating back to the 1970’s. A2 even saw marijuana become legal for a few weeks in 1972 before the times caught up with them. Each community has long been considered the center for cannabis crusading in their respective states while acting as early proponents for medical access to marijuana.

Boulder has become a never-ending traffic jam of Subaru Foresters and Outbacks heading to pick up organic produce or to the newest farm-to-table restaurant or on the way to yoga and then the brewery. Throw in unsafe and pretentious bikers at every intersection, inflated rent and living expenses, a mild case of groupthink disguised as innovation and you’ve got a potent recipe a thriving marijuana industry grown over the last decade.

The Boulder Bubble comes replete with dozens of dispensaries and retail stores pocketed around town leaving residents and visitors less than a 5 minute jaunt away from catching a buzz from a pre-rolled joint or infused soda at all times. Edible and concentrate producers’ account for hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial real estate keeping landlords bankroll’s fat and warehouse spaces renting for 2 times above market value.

Things are not as far gone in Ann Arbor but it looks like they might be well on their well.

Take a Stroll Through Ann Arbor

Medical marijuana has long been available in Ann Arbor so the recently released emergency rules by the Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation haven’t caused much of a stir yet.

At the present time the city of Ann Arbor has allowed 18 marijuana businesses to provisionally operate while they seek state licenses. That list includes 13 dispensaries of which nearly all do not accept out of state patients even though they are allowed to do so. History likely supposes that some businesses will contract and sell off assets, as they are unable to meet the requirements for state licensing or afford application and other associated fees. Others will be forced to move to new and more undesirable locations to giving way to newly enforced zoning laws.

The cost of cannabis flower in Tree Town, USA is too expensive and does not necessarily live up to the price tag when put to the test. The phrase patient before profit doesn’t exactly come to mind when ounce prices start at $200 on the bottom shelf. Remarkably, edible and concentrate prices fall within a range commensurate with mature cannabis markets throughout the country. Be that all as it may, prices across the board should look to trend up as new testing, packaging and transport standards along with costly regulations force business to shift those costs onto the patients they serve.

Man about town

Of the three dispensaries I was able to visit on a recent trip to Ann Arbor, two of them granted me reciprocal rights as an out-of-state patient. One of them has just shut down.

The Green Door recently closed its downtown location amid city zoning issues. Their website states,

“The Green Door in Downtown Ann Arbor has closed but we will be back. We will have a better and bigger provisioning center with even more to help your needs!”

That might not be a good thing. If the city didn’t eighty-six em’, the design police would have been well within their rights to torch the place. A bright green neon marijuana leaf illuminated the front window. Inside, dayglow orange walls detracted from the tin ceiling in the waiting and check in area. Posters of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd straight from the racks of Sam Goody and Tower Records hung without precision.

Once beyond the hanging bamboo doorway divider, more of the same décor was placed alongside tapestries further cementing that location as a very heady spot. The prices were astronomical. The budtender told me people from out of state complained about the high cost. That proclamation did not detract the college-aged gentlemen wearing pajama bottoms from purchasing over $500 worth of cannabis while I was being helped.

The other dispensary I shopped at was located in a business park far from the hustle and bustle of downtown. The Cannoisseur Collective takes its name from a portmanteau of the words cannabis and connoisseur, which seems to be a poplar naming strategy for dispensaries across the country these days. At the time of my arrival, the waiting area had barren white walls save for the artistic rendering of cartoon characters Bart Simpson and Nelson Muntz wearing Yeezy Boost 350’s.

Beyond the security door and inside of the budroom cannabis flower was displayed in glass jars sitting on the shelves of the most basic retail display cabinets. Edibles and concentrates lined up side by side were resigned to a similar fate.

The last stop on my tour of Ann Arbor dispensaries was tucked away on the third floor of a building with an unassuming facade and little signage on Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor. Om of Medicine is a hidden gem. You won’t know its there unless your looking for it.

Inside, brick walls juxtaposed with brightly colored accent walls and hardwood floors create an inviting atmosphere almost immediately. Local artwork for sale adorns the space and begs inquiry. The bright and knowledgeable staff curates the patient experience for optimal comfort. Ample seating, good reading and free Wi-Fi make waiting to shop an exercise in luxury.

Two distinctly decorated rooms serve as one-on-one consultation spaces for patients to get acquainted with cannabis products or ask questions in a private setting. There is no need to churn and burn patients at Om of Medicine. The dispensary is a leader in advocacy, education and research. A standout when compared to any other dispensary in the nation, it has a je ne sais quoi achieved organically over time.

Hash Bash

The first Saturday in April is the biggest day of the year for cannabis enthusiast in Ann Arbor and around the state of Michigan. This year marks the 47th installment of the Hash Bash. Being held on the University of Michigan’s Diag, a central campus thoroughfare, the gathering is not listed on the University’s event page but the campus takes a laissez faire approach to enforcing their strict no-smoking policy for the day.

Hash Bash’s preamble, The John Sinclair Freedom Rally held in 1971, brought John Lennon and Stevie Wonder to town to demonstrate against the incarceration of the rally’s namesake. The shindig has grown and shrank and grown again in size and scope in the preceding four and a half decades. This year there is a Hash Bash App.

The schedule calls for a slate of speakers, panel discussions and seminars featuring activists, business owners, doctors, lawyers, politicians and professional athletes. Laith Al-Saadi, a season ten finalist from The Voice is set to open the festivities with a rendition of the “The Star Spangled Banner” at noon.

Looking Ahead

365,000 signatures supporting legalizing recreational cannabis were collected and turned into the statehouse in Lansing last November. Led by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, the aim of the campaign is to have the residents of Michigan decide its own fate as it regards marijuana legalization. The fact that cannabis has none of the public safety or health concerns associated with alcohol in addition to the fact that marijuana is an important medicine for many ailments make any comparisons of the two patently and inherently flawed.

Despite the goofy name, the organization has deftly maneuvered and muscled for rank, as they’ve been successful in supplying far more signatures than necessary to state officials. Given the trend of successful legalization ballot initiatives in 2016 the smart money is on marijuana come election day in 2018.

Jeff Irwin, the coalition’s Political Director during the campaign is a former county commissioner, state representative and currently running for state senate on a progressive platform in Michigan’s 18th district, which includes Ann Arbor. Active on a variety of issues, Irwin chooses to champion labor and voting rights, criminal justice reform, education, the environment, equality, women’s rights, universal healthcare and yes…cannabis legalization.

Irwin recognizes the economic and societal benefits that legalization offers. He recently told me,

“Ending prohibition can be helpful to taxpayers. Today, we waste hundreds of millions on cannabis prohibition. Paying for cops and prosecutors, courts and bailiffs. Paying for criminal justice resources. What if we redirect the effort to more dangerous drugs and crimes? That can be a benefit and savings.”

Insights like this are a breath of fresh air in today’s political climate where filling up private prisons take precedence over fair and equitable enforcement of the law.

“We can also garner tax revenue. Expect that the public will vote for this and it will top a couple of hundred of million in tax revenue in the first years. It will only grow from there. Colorado is telling. Rates of usage are stable and tax revenue is way up. Trade is driven to regulated space and made safer. Tax revenue from commerce. 35% for roads, 35% for schools and 30% to local gov’t.” He continued.

Irwin’s colleagues have had mixed reactions to his taking up the cannabis legalization cause. There will always cynics who don’t agree with cannabis in any way, shape or form but it also has allowed for much reaching across the aisle.

“It cuts both ways. Criminal justice reform is a great issue for democrats and republicans to come together on. There is a lot we agree on. The public wants the legislature to work on bipartisan issues. It’s an opportunity for bipartisanship. When I was starting to get active there were a lot of colleagues that would make jokes about my position on the issue (marijuana legalization). That’s fine; it never really bothered me. I’d rather have people knowing what I’m working on than not. Sometimes the interest level that legalization attracts would wash out those views.” Irwin said.

Mr. Irwin’s viewpoints on the matter of legalization come from places of compassion, research and education. He is not using the platform as political ammunition to help win an election or to boost his stature.

He concluded our conversation by saying,

“The most important thing is the benefit to the patients. I think cannabis should be legal across the board. Responsible adults should be able to use. One thing I’ve learned is that here a many individuals that are getting relief. They need safe and legal access points. If somebody wants to use cannabis as an alternative to drugs, how are they supposed to get their medicine? Not everyone has the skill to grow his or her own.”

There is still much work to be done across the nation on the marijuana legalization front but as far as the state of Michigan goes— the future is looking bright thought a cloud of hazy smoke.

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