With the recent openings of two medical marijuana centers in Southeast Michigan, advocates of medical marijuana speculate that the legalization of medical marijuana might blossom into a bustling industry that could help boost Michigan’s ailing economy.

But state officials say the drug’s legalization isn’t the answer to the state’s economic woes.

Proposal 1, which was passed by 63 percent of voters in the Nov. 2008 election, legalized the drug for medical use. The law also allows Michigan citizens to apply to become either patients or caregivers, who can grow plants for those who have a medical marijuana card.

Anthony Freed, executive director of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Chamber of Commerce and founder of a new medical cannabis center that opened in Ypsilanti on the first of this month, said the center has the potential to play an important role in fixing the state of Michigan’s economy.

Freed’s center — which is serving its maximum number of clients and has 400 people on the waitlist — evaluates people to assess their need for a medical marijuana card and has a “compassion club” or patient support group that meets weekly.

“My idea when it comes to cannabis is to bring it to a level that any other industry is, and in this case it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that just needs to be legitimized,” Freed said. “Within that industry I do believe is the salvation of the state of Michigan.”

Freed said Michigan is the perfect setting for this industry to flourish because of its environmental landscape and soaring unemployment.

“Michigan, more so than California or Oregon, has this ability because we have the farmland, we have the unemployed people, we have these empty factories,” he said. “Everything’s already here and most of this is green industry, and a lot of it can be government funded.”

But James McCurtis, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Community Health, said because caregivers are limited by state regulations to growing a certain amount of the plant, the idea that medical marijuana industries could solve the economic woes of the state is unrealistic.

“Honestly, I don’t think it could fix Michigan’s economy,” he said. “The way the law’s written, people aren’t compensated for providing marijuana or anything like that. (Caregivers) are reimbursed. It’s not anything where they can make a profit from it, they can’t open up a medical marijuana store…medical marijuana is not the answer for the economy.”

But officials at the Med Grow Cannibis College in Southfield, Mich. disagree.

The school — founded last May by 24-year-old Nick Tennant — has about 80 to 120 students enrolled each month and a curriculum with classes on cannabis horticulture, legal issues, history, cooking, advocacy and politics, according to Tennant.

Perry Belcher, a professor at the college, teaches the history of cannabis from 6000 B.C. through modern day, which analyzes the various perspectives of marijuana throughout time and the propaganda that has contributed to its negative stigma.

Belcher said the medical marijuana industry has the prospect to offer vast job opportunities for the unemployed in the state, especially for those interested in becoming caregivers.

Because Michigan’s medical marijuana law limits patients and caregivers to grow the plant, as opposed to purchasing it at a dispensary — as is the case in other states like California — Belcher said most of the jobs that are becoming available because of the legalization of medical marijuana in the state are in the horticultural sector.

“It’s incredible to watch actual farming come back into style and become a powerful occupation for somebody,” Belcher said. “These are really jobs that are happening and income that’s being made and it’s all by the people for the people. What I’m seeing is great success, not just for the college but for the state of Michigan.”

Chris Chiles, an LSA senior and founder of the University’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said he thinks the industry could greatly help Michigan’s economic situation.

“I think people will very soon realize the benefits of the emerging medical marijuana industry because more revenue will stay in-state instead of being funneled away to illegal markets,” Chiles said.

The medical marijuana economic sector also provides entrepreneurial opportunities for people out of work or recent graduates looking for employment, Chiles said.

“It’s creating more revenue and giving people the knowledge to create their own businesses and become entrepreneurs in this industry,” he said. “So in this respect, I think it’s nice to see that open up.”

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