Long lines greet legal weed in Michigan

At its longest point, the wait time outside Arbors Wellness in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on December 1, 2019, stretched to nearly four hours as people from all across Michigan, as well as from Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, waited for their opportunity to be among the first to purchase legal marijuana in the Wolverine State.

“There was a line that was two-and-a-half blocks long,” says James Daly, president of Arbors Wellness, adding that despite the wait, the vibe remained positive all day.

John Sinclair, a man who served 10 years in prison for selling two joints in Michigan in 1969, became the first person in state history to legally buy cannabis.

Inside, at 9:51 a.m., history was made when poet and activist John Sinclair became the first person in state history to legally by marijuana for recreational purposes. The longtime cannabis advocate was arrested in 1969 and given a 10-year prison sentence for selling two joints to an undercover police officer, which led to protests, rallies and a landmark court decision outlawing domestic electronic surveillance without a warrant. He was immortalized in a 1972 John Lennon song with the lyric “They gave him 10 for two; what else can the bastards do?” On December 1, he left the store with 10 pre-rolled joints, bringing his story full circle and kicking off a new era of legality in his home state.

“It was an emotional ceremonial first sale,” Daly says.

Through the rest of the day, Daly says the shop served about 750 people, approximately 42% of statewide sales on the first day.

“It’s been a very long time coming,” he says. “It was a monumental day.”

Michigan voters first approved medical marijuana in 2008, though in 2013 the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the law did not allow for dispensaries to open, throwing those already open into a legal gray area until 2016 when the governor signed a law officially legalizing them.

Bringing Home the Gold

Common Citizen in Flint, Michigan was recently recognized by the ICSC for its retail design.

Common Citizen, the lifestyle brand of Michigan’s largest vertically integrated medical cannabis company, won a 2019 Gold Award for retail store design from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

“We are truly honored to be recognized by the ICSC for the design of our Flint location because we designed it with people in mind,” Michael Elias, CEO of Michigan Pure Med, the parent company of Common Citizen, said in a press release. “We offer human-centered, purpose-driven cannabis products that serve the unique needs of our patients, and we’re proud to offer a welcoming space that helps them find the right cannabis products for their needs.”

The building — formerly the Raincheck Lounge — was transformed into a state-of-the-art cannabis dispensary catering to people from all walks of life while prominently displaying Common Citizen’s brand, along with artwork, warm lighting, clean-lined furniture and photos of patients.

According to ICSC’s awards announcement, “The layout offers open sightlines and features a predominately black and white design palette, balanced with warm wood accents and paneling, clean-line furnishings, textured wall treatments and bespoke lighting fixtures. The innovative space incorporates a welcoming lobby entry leading to freestanding high-top counters equipped with mounted tablets, display units containing branded merchandise and related paraphernalia, and a variety of seating and lounge areas.”

ICSC announced the winners of the 2019 North America Design & Development Awards competition recognizing excellence, innovation and creativity in the U.S. and Canada retail real estate industry on December 9, 2019.

Common Citizen opened its Flint location in May 2019, followed by locations in Emmett Township and Detroit. It plans to open additional Michigan locations in 2020.

The next year, in 2017, an initiative campaign began to place adult-use legalization in front of voters. It passed in November 2018, with 56% of voters making Michigan the 10th state to legalize marijuana.

Just over a year later, sales were allowed to begin, though only a handful of shops were able to open their doors on the first day, most of them in Ann Arbor, the state’s unofficial cannabis capital which in the 1970s passed laws making possession a civil infraction instead of a crime.

In 2017, Daly bought Arbors Wellness, which was established as the Arbors Wellness Collective in 2010, and rebranded the shop in preparation for medical licensing and eventual adult-use sales. Daly says the vertically integrated shop was the first in the state to be approved for a provisioning center license. Doors officially opened for medical patients in July 2018.

This year, Michigan allowed medical dispensaries — known legally as “provisioning centers” due to a state law that mandates “dispensary” only be used for pharmacies — to convert half of their supply for sale as adult-use on December 1. When that edict came through in November, Daly says Arbors Wellness “kicked it into high gear.”

“We’re well-established in the medical market,” he says. “Since then we’ve scaled up.”

When the store opened on the first day of December, Daly says the shelves were stocked flower, edibles, concentrates and CBD products, though, like all early markets, prices were a little high compared to established states, with an eighth going for between $48 and $68, according to Daly.

No vaporizer cartridges were available on opening day because of a moratorium enacted by the state earlier in the week requiring tests for vitamin E acetate, a thickening agent believed to play a major role in the rash of illnesses and deaths associated with vaping in 2019. However, Daly says the store had tested cartridges available the following week, priced at $55, also above average in older markets.

“Bear with us in these early stages,” he says.

One of the only shops outside of Ann Arbor to get its doors open for recreational sales on the first day was Michigan Supply & Provisions in Morenci, located near the Ohio border in the southeastern part of the state, which made its first adult-use sale around 7 p.m.

“It was amazing,” says Brian Thienel, regional director for the Michigan market for MS&P. “The consumers were so pumped up.”

Thienel says his store’s stock of recreational product was “pretty limited” but the shop’s vestibule was crowded and a line with a wait time of more than 45 minutes still formed, though medical patients were moved to the front of the line.

Michigan Supply & Provisions in Morenci and four other stores sold $1.6 million in products during the state’s first week or recreational sales.

He also says additional inventory was on the way for future recreational sales.

“The energy has been super high,” he says. “Smiles are huge, even with the longer wait times.”

Thienel says the crowd that formed to be among the first to buy legal weed in Michigan spanned all demographics and included residents of Michigan as well as the surrounding states, including many first-time buyers.

The limited supply is always a problem when new markets open and cultivators in Michigan are expanding their operations to try to meet demand, with at least one producer in the process of more than doubling their production space.

In total, Michigan provisioning centers sold $1,629,007 worth of recreational product during the opening week of sales, according to Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency spokesman David Harns, which resulted in more than $270,000 in excise and sales tax revenue for the state.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of demand out there,” Harns says.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for everybody,” agrees Daly, who says he feels good about the future for cannabis in Michigan, despite 70% of municipalities choosing to opt-out of allowing cannabis retail within their borders.

Both Daly and Theinel say their brands have plans to expand in the new year, either in production or number of stores or both.

“It’s going to be busy, but exciting,” says Thienel.

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