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From seed to sale: Marijuana industry ‘growing’ in Western Michigan

CCG Holdings, LLC., a marijuana grow facility in Webber Township, recently began operations. The company plans to expand it grow operations in the coming months and will hold a job fair at the Webber Township Hall on Jan. 6. (Star photo/Cathie Crew)

Fresh Water Provisioning Center is the newest marijuana retail store to come to the Baldwin area. Care By Design, Inc. plans to open the facility by the end of the year and will provide medical and adult use recreational marijuana products. The company also plans to establish a grow and processing facility in the area. (Star photo/Cathie Crew)

Since Michigan voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2018, several grow facilities and provisioning centers have been, or are in the process of being, established in Lake, Osceola and Mecosta counties. (Photo courtesy of Lume Cannabis Company)

Local business owners Audrey and Steve Dominique plan to open their second Green Door marijuana retail facility on Forman Road by the end of the year. (Star photo/Cathie Crew)

LAKE COUNTY — Lake, Mecosta, and Osceola counties have become “fertile ground” for companies and entrepreneurs interested in the marijuana industry.

Since Michigan voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2018, several grow facilities and provisioning centers have been, or are in the process of being, established in the tri-county area.

In Lake County one grow facility and one retail marijuana establishment are currently operating, while two additional grow facilities and two additional retail establishments are in the works.

CCG Holdings Group, LLC., a grow facility that recently began operations in Webber Township, started the process of applying for licensing and getting approvals for their facility in 2018, owner Dan Reynolds said.

“We have been operating for a couple of months,” Reynolds said. “It took a long time to get through the state licensing and the background checks. We went through the pre-approval process making sure we were the kind of people they wanted in the industry, and while we were waiting on that, the state changed the rules, so we had to go through the process again.”

CCG Holdings Group, LLC. is a state licensed grower and cultivator for medical marijuana, he said, but are in the process of getting approved for adult use recreational as well.

“What we grow is hand crafted premium cannabis primarily for smoking, so it is going to smell nice, look amazing and taste great,” Reynolds said. “We have a specific strain that we will get to the medical and adult use recreational market.”

Currently, they hold a Class A license which allows for 500 plants, with plans to add an additional 500 plants when they are approved for the Class B adult use recreational growers license in the next two to three weeks, he said.

“We do not do any processing at this facility,” Reynolds said. “We hold three more adult use permits for growing in Webber Township that have been approved locally and are looking at building another facility with processing built into it and possibly doing an outdoor cultivation facility, if the township allows it.”

He added, Webber Township officials have been great to work with, and have done everything they can to bring the industry to the area.

“There are things popping up all over Lake County, so I think it is going to be in the business plans for a lot of people in the future,” Reynolds said. “There is still a lot of room for growth, so I think you’re going to see a lot of opportunity in Lake County.”

Reynolds added, they wanted to bring cannabis to Western Michigan because it has been an area where it has been frowned upon.

“Even though 60% of voters were in favor of it, it still has a stigma,” he said. “Everybody was afraid all this crime was going to come in, but in reality, it is just the opposite. It keeps the black market away, which is the criminal element.

“If we can keep that away and get some revenue for the state and the local economy, that’s a win-win,” he added. “I live in this area, and for me to be able to bring this industry to Western Michigan is a great opportunity.”

CCG Holdings Group, LLC. currently employs three people that are going through the process of growing out the plants and getting them large enough to flower, Reynolds said.

“Once we add our next 500 plants and are up and running full time, we are looking at adding seven to 10 full time and part time positions,” he said. “We are planning a job fair where we can meet some local people interested in the industry.”

Steve and Audrey Dominique, local Baldwin business owners, were quick to get into the business, as well.

In January, they opened the first medical marijuana provisioning center in Baldwin, converting part of their Pure Michigan Solutions store into Green Door Baldwin provisioning center.

In July, they added adult use recreational marijuana.

The Dominiques are now in the process of establishing a second provisioning center on Forman Road in Pleasant Plains Township and have tentatively begun the process of establishing a grow facility on that same property.

“We plan to open our second provisioning center this year,” Audrey Dominque said. “The grow facility will probably be a year or two down the road.”

The plan is to apply for licensing from the state for a Class C medical and recreational license, and possibly include a processing facility, as well, she said.

“We have 20 acres, so there is room to grow if there is a need,” Dominque said. “The advantage to having your own grow facility would be mostly financial. You wouldn’t have to pay a transporter, so there would be some savings and our products would cost less for the consumer.

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“In addition, knowing your own product would be an advantage,” she said. “Knowing how everything is done from start to finish in that product helps ensure the quality.”

Dominque said they currently get their products from a lot of different suppliers, and they have a grow facility in Bangor that they purchase a lot of product from.

“When we can’t get it from them, we outsource to other places,” she said. “Right now, there are a lot of different vendors that we use.”

Green Door Baldwin currently employs around eight people. The new provisioning center will provide an additional eight jobs, and the new grow facility is expected to add another 10 to 12 local jobs, Dominque said.

Another company is also establishing themselves in the Pleasant Plains marijuana industry.

Care By Design, Inc., is currently building a provisioning center, Fresh Water Cannabis Co., on M-37 in Baldwin.

They are building from the ground up and expect to have the facility completed and open for business by the end of the year.

“The facility will have a provisionary center for the sale of medical marijuana and related products, and expansion into recreational is forthcoming,” company spokesperson Richard Hogg said.

The company also has plans to establish a growing and processing facility soon after the provisionary center is completed, he said.

They are applying for a Class A license, which is for 500 plants, with plans to possibly expand on that at some future date.

Hogg said the advantage to having their own growing and processing facility will enable them to become more sustainable as a business and will offer more quality control over the products they offer their customers.

Although they do not have an exact number, Hogg said, they will be hiring employees on the grow side, budtenders at the provisioning center, security for all the facilities, store managers and maintenance personnel, as well as various other positions.

They chose the Baldwin, and the Pleasant Plains Township area because they saw the community as strong, close knit, caring and understanding, he said.

“We love the township, the community, and the people within it,” Hogg said. “The community culture is similar to our work culture. We are contribution oriented and strive to add to the community.”

In addition, he said, they hope to partner with the community through their foundation, Fresh Water Foundation, to support and maintain lakes and streams in the area.

Hogg said they do not have any current plans to expand further but are always looking for opportunities and ways to form healthy partnerships with local communities.

With all the current activity taking place in the marijuana industry, some feel that the market is becoming over saturated.

Reynolds, however, said that he did not feel like the industry is becoming oversaturated, but rather felt like there was still room to grow the industry throughout the area.

“The thought is that the cream will rise to the top and the customer will win in the end,” Reynolds said. “It will bring the prices down and the medical patient will win because you will get the best of the best. It just comes down to who is the best and who provides the best service.

“There is still a lot of room for growth, so I think you are going to see a lot of opportunity for Lake County as far as bringing jobs and money to the area,” he said.

A booming industry

As more cities and townships approved resolutions to opt in to the medical and adult use recreational marijuana industry, more companies came knocking on the door with plans to establish provisioning centers, as well as growing and processing facilities.

In April 2018, Lume Cannabis Company opened a growing and processing facility in Evart, in Osceola County. Now, after a year in operation, the company is in the process of expanding their facility.

They were recently approved for a Class C grow license and an excess grower license.

Lume owns eight Class C cultivation licenses — three for medical and five for adult use, Marlon Mallas, general manager of cultivation, said. In addition, they hold medical and adult use processing licenses.

One major benefit the marijuana industry brings to the community is the creation of jobs. Lume’s cultivation facility currently employs over 140 people, Mallas said, including growers that tend to the plants, trimmers, packagers, harvesters, lab techs, administrative personnel and facilities personnel.

“We have people as young as 21, as well as people in their 70s,” Mallas said. “People of all ages love to work around these beautiful plants. Some positions require no experience at all, while other more advanced positions like our grow team require a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge.”

Lume recently broke ground on the expansion of the Evart facility, which once complete, is expected to create an additional 170 jobs.

“Our plan is to continue expanding here as long as the municipality allows for more licenses and growth,” Mallas said.

Lume also has a provisioning center in Evart. Once known as Lit, it now carries the Lume Cannabis Company name. The facility, originally medical-only, was one of the first to begin offering adult use recreational products in December 2019.

In March 2020, the company opened a provisioning center in downtown Big Rapids, which offers medical and adult use recreational marijuana products.

Lume’s cultivation facility in Evart grows, cultivates and processes medical and adult use recreational products for the provisioning centers in Evart and Big Rapids, as well as nine other provisioning centers around the state, Mallas said.

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“All Lume flower is cultivated in Evart, and all of our pre-rolled products are produced here,” he said. “Lume edibles are produced off-site, but the THC used to make them is derived from the flower that we grow.”

Mallas said it is important to control the process “from seed to sale” and that is the advantage of having a grow facility, as well as the processing centers.

“We take pride in having the best and cleanest product in the market,” Mallas said. “Vertical integration in this market is always more beneficial financially, as well. Relieving the burden of cost from a third party allows us to focus our resources on producing the highest quality of product.”

New kids on the block

In addition to Lume Cannabis Company, there are currently two other provisioning centers open in Big Rapids – Premiere Provisions and KKind, with two additional retail locations to open by the end of the year – Mother Nutures and Lake Life Farms.

Premier Provisioning Center, a medical and adult use recreational marijuana retail store located at 714 Perry Avenue, opened in June.

Owner Kenneth Bryant said they currently get their product supply from vendors throughout the state, but are looking to establish their own 1,500 plant facility.

“We are looking around to see what area would be best for that,” Bryant said. “Big Rapids looks like they would be a great area to do this, but we are also looking at Chase in Lake County and in Marquette.”

Bryant added that they would like to have the facility up and running in 2021, but that will depend on how much of a build out they will need to do.

“The advantage of having that would mean that we would always be able to control the strains that are in our store,” Bryant said. “The purchase price will be much better, also, and we can offer our customers better deals with the products we grow ourselves.”

The next step in the process would be to establish their own processing facility, he said.

Pot is legal in Michigan. What to know about recreational marijuana

At 12:01 a.m. Thursday, Michigan turned green and became the 10th state in the nation to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use.

But the old saying, “Smoke ’em if you got ’em,” carries many, many caveats.

Matt Abel, who has been a marijuana advocate for years and is the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said he planned to “roll a big fattie and smoke it at midnight,” when Michigan’s voter-approved ballot initiative on recreational marijuana officially went into effect.

“This is the last day of prohibition,” he said on Wednesday. “It’s significant and a milestone for marijuana laws in Michigan. But we still have a ways to go.”

Indeed, when he smokes that big marijuana joint, he’ll need to be inside his house or other private residence because indulging in marijuana in public will remain illegal.

And that means no firing up a bowl on the front porch or vapes in the driveway because those are considered public places, said Royal Oak cannabis attorney Barton Morris.

“Anything that’s publicly accessible to people is out of bounds,” he said. “It’s customary for people to come up on your front porch or walk up your driveway.”

Your backyard should be okay, said Doug Mains, an attorney who represents medical marijuana clients with the Honigman law firm in Lansing

“Is your backyard a public place? Probably not, since nobody can really walk into your backyard whenever they want,” he said. “That is probably even more so if your yard is fenced in or you are far away from your neighbors.”

But there is still the matter of the pungent aroma of marijuana, said Morris, which may cause neighbors to lodge a nuisance complaint.

“A next door neighbor shouldn’t be able to smell it,” he said. “Everyone has the ability to the quiet enjoyment of their property.”

A grow operation in a residential home in Sterling Heights, for example, was shut down this summer after neighbors complained of the noxious odors coming from the house.

So the free and easy reputation of legal weed? Not so much.

Now that it’s legal, here’s what you need to know about marijuana:

Where can I get my hands on weed?

Marijuana won’t be commercially available for sale until state regulators draft rules and regulations for the recreational market. They have until December 2019 and then they can begin to accept applications for licenses, with the first commercial retail sales expected in 2020. After the medical marijuana industry was regulated in December 2016, the first licenses weren’t awarded until August 2018.

In the meantime, people can grow up to 12 plants in their homes for personal use and they can give — but not sell — the product to friends and family. That may change if Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, has his way. He has introduced a bill that would ban people from growing their own marijuana, but it will need a super-majority — a three-fourths vote — to pass, which will be a difficult to accomplish.

Where can I get the seeds or marijuana plants to begin growing?

Seeds and plants are available for sale online, but since the federal government still considers marijuana an illegal drug, it’s also illegal to ship it across state lines. The registered caregiver market, in which a person can register to grow up to 72 plants for medical marijuana cardholders, will stay in place even after the recreational market gets up and running and seeds and plants could be available from them.

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Pot is legal in Canada. Can I buy it there?

No. It’s still considered an illegal drug by the federal government, which has control of the border with Canada, so it can’t be transported across state lines or across the Canadian border.

Is there an age requirement? Or limits on pot possession?

Yes, you have to be 21 to indulge in Michigan. And once marijuana becomes commercially available, people can buy and possess and carry 2.5 ounces of pot a day, and can keep up to 10 ounces in their home as long as it’s locked up. Police will no longer be able to arrest people for use or possession of small amounts of marijuana.

What health effects will marijuana have on me or those around whom I smoke?

A 2014 study published in the medical journal Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine said that a person heavily smoking marijuana could be more susceptible to chronic bronchitis.

In Canada, which legalized marijuana for recreational use on Oct. 17, Health Canada, the nation’s health ministry, launched a campaign to educate the public about the dangers of cannabis use. The message is that young people should avoid it. “We know that the brain is still undergoing significant maturation until the age of 25,” said Dr. Amy Porath, director of research for the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction. “To preserve brain health, it’s important for young people to delay the use of cannabis as long as possible.”

It is not clear whether a human being exposed to second-hand marijuana smoke would suffer the same effects as those exposed to cigarette smoke. The National Institute on Drug Abuse said in a June 2018 report that little research has been done on the subject.

Will marijuana help relieve ailments?

Few people dispute the medical benefits of marijuana on a variety of ailments, including chronic pain, seizures, cancer, glaucoma and PTSD. And the state has designated 22 conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, epilepsy and arthritis as qualifiers for medical marijuana cards.

In states that have legalized marijuana, opioid prescription drug use declined by 2.3 million doses in 2017, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

What about smoking and driving?

It’s illegal. Michigan has a zero-tolerance policy for drugged driving. So any amount of THC — the psychoactive component in marijuana — in a driver’s blood is illegal and can be criminally charged, just like a drunken drunk driving offense.

It will be more difficult to test for marijuana in the system, however, and will be done either by a blood draw or possibly by oral swabs if a pilot project recently completed by Michigan State Police proves successful.

What about marijuana in the workplace?

Employers can keep and enforce zero tolerance policies for their workers. The law doesn’t change a business owner’s ability to perform pre-employment or random drug tests on workers and refuse to hire, or to fire or discipline workers who test positive for marijuana. Some “safety sensitive” businesses such as utilities, trucking companies, manufacturers and hospitals maintain a zero tolerance policy as well as companies that have federal contracts because the feds still consider marijuana an illegal drug.

How long will marijuana stay in your system?

Part of the problem for employers and their workers is that unlike alcohol, where tests can show the exact level in a person’s blood, there are few available tests that show the level of impairment for marijuana. Saliva swabs and urine samples only show if THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, has been used over the last few days, said Dr. Barry Sample of Quest Diagnostics, a New Jersey company that analyzes millions of workplace drug tests every year. Swabs and samples don’t show a person’s level of impairment at the time of a test. Tests of hair samples will show THC levels going back as long as 90 days.

What about marijuana businesses in cities?

At least 28 communities across the state, including Birmingham, Royal Oak, Fraser, Livonia, the village of Pinckney and Plymouth, have decided to ban recreational marijuana businesses from their communities. Each town has to determine whether it wants to allow and regulate or prohibit marijuana businesses. Approximately 108 communities, including Detroit, Warren, Hazel Park, Walled Lake, Orion Township, Harrison Township, Lenox Township, Garden City, River Rouge and Inkster, have already adopted ordinances to allow medical marijuana businesses in their communities

Does the new law affect Michigan’s medical marijuana laws?

No. Caregivers still can grow up to 12 plants for each of five medical marijuana card holders. The only difference for cardholders will be that a 3 percent excise tax on medical marijuana sales at dispensaries will go away in early 2019.

What about marijuana convictions?

It will be up to the state Legislature to pass a law that would work toward expunging the records of people convicted of low-level marijuana crimes. And four bills trying to achieve that goal have been introduced in the Legislature, although none has been scheduled for a hearing.

Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat who will take office on Jan. 1, also has said that she favors clearing up the records of people convicted of crimes that will no longer be offenses under the legalization of marijuana.