Sunday marks first day of recreational marijuana sales in Michigan, draws large crowds

Sunday, December 1, 2019 - 6:39pm

Recreational marijuana sales began in Michigan Sunday, with three retail locations in Ann Arbor.

Recreational marijuana sales began in Michigan Sunday, with three retail locations in Ann Arbor. Buy this photo
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Hundreds of people lined the blocks outside local marijuana dispensaries early Sunday morning as Ann Arbor businesses Exclusive Brands, Arbors Wellness and Greenstone Provisions opened sales of marijuana to recreational users for the first time. The stores are three of six retail shops in the state of Michigan licensed to sell recreational marijuana.

Michigan passed Proposal 18-1 last November, allowing adults over the age of 21 to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The proposition also stipulated that recreational sales of marijuana be subject to a 10-percent excise tax in addition to Michigan’s six-percent sales tax. Applications to sell recreational marijuana opened Nov. 1.

The Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency announced Wednesday that licensed retailers may transfer up to 50 percent of their medical inventory from the past month to their recreational inventory. Currently, six stores have received recreational licenses, four of which are located in Ann Arbor, one in Evart, and one in Morenci, though not all of them have opened sale to recreational users yet.

Al Moroz, manager of Arbors Wellness, said he wasn’t surprised by the number of people waiting to make recreational purchases, as consumers have been making their demand known. 

“We’ve had phones literally calling about recreational sales of marijuana since the first of the year — ever since basically Michigan voted to allow recreational possession of cannabis, people have been expecting us to sell it,” Moroz said. “We’re very happy that we’re able to sell it today. We’ve been seeing a lot of interest all week, basically since they made the announcement about transferring inventory, so we’re not really surprised by the crowds, but it’s still a great thing to see.”

Arbors Wellness opened its doors at 9 a.m. but prioritized medical patients before making its first recreational sales. The first sales were made to Lansing resident Ryan Basore and Flint native John Sinclair, longtime marijuana activists who have both faced arrests for marijuana related charges. Sinclair’s 1969 arrest for marijuana possession and subsequent 10 year sentence spurred protests, including a 1971 concert held at the University of Michigan at which John Lennon and Yoko Ono performed, entitled the John Sinclair Freedom Rally.

“The first few sales were to very historic people that have been fighting prohibition for quite some time,” Moroz said. “I was really happy to be able to provide them legal sales of cannabis for something they had been working towards for years at this point.”

Jacque Kyllonen, a Washtenaw County resident who arrived at 9 a.m. and had been waiting for two hours outside Arbors Wellness, said she felt the first day of legal recreational sales was an important historical moment. 

“I’m here joining a part of history,” Kyllonen said. “I don’t have a medical card, and I use this as medicine, so it’s kind of cool. I have fibromyalgia, and I have chronic migraines, so it definitely helps.”

Those who braved the cold were welcomed with free coffee and donuts outside Arbors Wellness. Melissa Mueller, a sales manager for the cannabis brand Mary’s Medicinals, which is sold at Arbors Wellness, walked down the line passing out donuts to show the brand’s support for Arbors Wellness. 

“Arbors Wellness has supported us for a long time, so we’re just here passing out donuts for the people who are waiting in line this morning,” Mueller said. 

Outside Greenstone Provisions, spirits were similarly high. Sean Ryan, a senior at Eastern Michigan University, had been in line for about 90 minutes and said he was excited to be able to easily buy recreational products he enjoys.

“We love easy access to edibles, it’s fantastic,” Ryan said. “It’s dope.”

Moroz sees both safety and economic benefits to legalizing recreational usage. 

“To be able to have an avenue that is both regulated and safe and controlled and provides revenue to the state is really a great place to have as far as cannabis,” Moroz said. “It should be a great thing moving forward for our company as well as the whole state of Michigan.”

LSA senior Eric TerBush was a part of Green Wolverine, a cannabis business student organization, when the group worked with Matthew Abel, one of the authors of Proposal 1, while the proposal was being drafted. TerBush also currently works at Benzinga, a financial news company in Detroit, where he manages their cannabis media. TerBush thinks the market for marijuana will not see many immediate changes.

“I think the most prominent changes we’re going to see are exacerbated supply shortages. Generally there’s been a lot of issues with supply shortages in the past year,” TerBush said. “LARA (Licensing and Regulatory Affair) has really dragged their toes as they slowly grant licenses and slowly grant renewal paperwork to people … and (the limited number of suppliers) has really not met up with demand.”

TerBush said he imagines most students who are buying from the black market will continue to do so out of convenience until cannabis companies invest more in cannabis production as they see increased profits. He imagines a future decrease in prices and increase in supply has the potential to decrease black market incentives.

“I think it sets up the initial stage for a black market to decrease in size,” TerBush said. “The prices are going to suck for a while, store openings are going to suck for a while, shortages are probably going to happen for a while. It’s a slow, gradual process that we’re working towards, but in the moment it’s a bit rocky.”