2016 MICHIGAN MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARY SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS
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Seven years and on, what is left to say about medical marijuana?   Certainly, these past 7 years of ‘reality’ has left its toll on us/US.

It’s when one takes a step deeper into the realities of medical marijuana that one can see that the critical element in the equation is distribution.  Just as material things like bread and cars have distribution systems so do ideas such as political and market concepts.  Medical marijuana is no different.
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Typical Michigan Medical Marijuana Patient: Employed, age 44, male.
Typical Purchase – cured cannabis, 15 day supply

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The distribution of information and ideas around medical marijuana has lead to its political acceptance by the public.  It is only after the political acceptance by the public that the legal recognition of medical marijuana happened.

Now, as I regress, it is not to say that the political acceptance by the general public can’t be altered back to a political ‘unacceptance.’  But, this would require some sort of super-duper, slick communications effort.

With 70 plus years of slick communications behind us (and 63% public acceptance 8 long years ago), it would mean that any effort to beat back the public’s voted decree would need to double down.  Or, as local public support around the nation brings forward another 3 states for legalizing medical marijuana, maybe it would need to triple down.  Yet again, in today’s world where the federal government is washing its hands of the subject through a continuing retreat of its prior overall support, financial commitments, and moral authority, maybe a 4x effort would be required.  The point is, it’s time to turn the page and write the next five years of medical marijuana.

To focus on the future and not the past is the purpose of this article.  Specifically, this article focuses on the point of contact between the product and the patient and the value that an independent dispensary plays in the medical marijuana distribution system.

Self-Evident

‘The logic of the dispensary model for distribution is self-evident.’


Your primary source for medical marijuana?

Dispensary – 62%

Black market – 17%

Grow it myself – 13%

Caregiver – 9%

(2015 Michigan patient survey based on 2059 respondents)

Things change.  The disappearance of landline phones (those things with tails on them) and Greece’s recent election (an important behavior-change event with far-reaching consequences) prove it.  So, if the herculean task of changing public opinion is irreversible then for those in the dispensary business, the focus, the thought process, needs to go from survival to how best to protect their independent dispensary distribution model.  How best to protect their income.

Translating Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from the dispensary industry position can give us a common gauge of where the industry is at.

The bottom rung is survival and this rung is made up of the elements of the free market: demand, financing, location, and such.  The next rung is control and security.  It is on this rung that individuals and dispensaries share common needs.  Needs such as law and order.  And safety.

When the smoke clears, tactics to restrict medical marijuana actually keep people that are in need of the benefits of medical marijuana in the darkness of drug crimes instead of the light of legitimacy.  These tactics to prevent dispensaries from reaching the control and security rung increase crime and drug lords in the State of Michigan.

The wise men in politics know that doubling down on a losing strategy will also equate to further loss of trust by the public. And as documented through numerous polls, trust between the political parties and the public is in short supply today.  Political outliers will not do a political party any good in maintaining it’s broad support.   Show me the base of a political party that doesn’t want to represent the public or include new industries into their party and I’ll show you a brand with no future.  We can all watch the rise of the political independent and those independents came from somewhere.  There is no long-term gain to be had through blind obedience to the land-phone or to the old politics of Greece.  Whether recognized or not the page has been turned.

Have you replaced other medications with cannabis?

22% Responded “Replaced 1 other medication fully”

33% Responded “Replaced 2-3 other medications fully”

7%   Responded “Replaced 3-5 other medications fully”

9%   Responded “Replaced more than 5 other medications fully”

29% Responded “No”

(public survey by several retail dispensaries – conducted 1/20/2015)

 

Warriors from the ‘wild west’ remember the days of ‘pot shops.’  Certainly Michigan Avenue in Lansing holds a spot in history for it’s ‘green mile’ with 11 dispensaries and an additional 30 or more scattered around the city.  Many, many were pot shops.  Certainly that in-your-face attitude to the community, city, and legislature did medical marijuana no good.

Unfortunately, and at the detriment to public safety, some dispensaries that are in operations today still lack too much in too many areas to add value to local communities.  And their image effects all independent dispensaries.    Many are simply operators that are trojan horses waiting to jump from their horse into a fully legal recreational pot market.

“Total sales of marijuana through Michigan retail dispensaries in 2015 is estimated to be over $148,000,000.”

Without a standard set of rules, messaging, and branding these operators will tow the legal-neon-green-pot-leaf path. With rules in place these actors will either get in line with the medical marihuana community or be placed on the sidelines, and forced to wait until recreational laws are enacted.

As in any industry, bad actors destroy group credibility.  So, by doing the distribution for medical marijuana correctly, it is not only good for the dispensary business but is good for the political business as well.  Both groups have much bigger fires-to-put-out and fish-to-fry than to dink around in a menacing way to society.  There is no long-term gain to be had in menacing with society.

Adding Value

By turning the page, the collective job going forward needs to enhance value to patients and to communities. By adding value is how independent dispensaries will reach the community rung.  That should be a common goal.

It is said that the direct route to persuasion is through trust and expertise.  As for expertise, certainly no group has greater expertise than the collective experiences of dispensaries in distributing medical marijuana.  But expertise does not mean best practices.

Trust is the big word that the dispensary segment needs to build upon.  Trust can take many forms.  It can range from choosing a good location for conducting business to a deliberate layout of the physical store to upholding the rule-of-law.  Another form of trust is knowledge-based where education plays the key role.  As with any evolutionary product, education is the important first step.  And no better education for the public than a common brand of similar dispensaries that promote standards and safety.  Publicly separating the ‘responsible’ dispensaries from the ‘irresponsible’ dispensaries should be a common goal.

Do you feel the State of Michigan has managed the State’s marijuana program effectively?

19% Responded “No, but they are getting better

23% Responded “No, poor handling of program

38% Responded “Yes, but slow to progress”

20% Responded “Yes, the system seems to be working”

Communities want standards.  Communities want control, security, and safety.  They want good neighbors.  Dispensaries learn when they listen and learn when they are shown by example.  Dispensaries with like-minded goals with their local communities have a lot to offer in local dialogues.

The common element that unites all of the various forces involved in medical marijuana is patient relief.  Too often too many dispensaries destroy that unity by a lack of community discretion.  ‘Don’t ask don’t tell’ by keeping dispensaries discrete appears to be the norm, maybe we can formalize this and codify it — Discrete Zoning.

Going forward for the independent dispensary is going to get very competitive.  Competition will come from the independent and from the corporate sector.  The independent competitor allows for fair competition but the corporate competitor will want 100% of the business.  These folks are clever enough to legislate out all competition and willing enough to throw big, big money to show that they have the wherewithal that the legislature and local communities are looking for.

But, corporate forces bring an entirely different culture of more sales and more profits than the organic route we are witnessing today from local independents.  Without real competition for the corporate stores prices rise as other things decline.  A quick look at pricing since medical marijuana implementation in 2010 shows about a 10% drop in price.  And the more things stabilize around the control/security/safety rung the more prices will further drop. The vital role in fulfilling a community’s need through independent dispensaries should be a common goal.  It is good for the community.

“‘I don’t know how the public will perceive it, but seeing the lobbying by Canadian-based corporations to control the Michigan grow-production market seems very similar to Governor Jennifer Granholm’s days of taking Canadian trash.”

Equally sinister are broad reaches to restrict dispensaries at the local level.  It’s funny how unfaithful people are by thinking that the marketplace doesn’t work.  Legally limiting the number of dispensaries is the opposite of the need.  Michigan needs more dispensaries to both serve a client base of 1% of the population and to ensure that customers get the value that they seek.  The Great State of Michigan needs to help cities to adopt medical marijuana, not allow communities to opt-out.  Opting-out creates a whole set of  patient’s issues and at the forefront are safety and convenience for those in society that are least able to travel.  There were no major dispensary incidents in 2014; dispensaries can and do co-exist with residents.  Bad actors can’t.

If you could change ONE thing about your current dispensary it would be:

5% Responded “Staff”

12% Responded “Process”

66% Responded “Location”

16% Responded “Parking”

1% Responded “Building Layout”

Independent  dispensaries already have value.  Of the estimated 200 dispensaries in Michigan operating from storefronts and an unknown number of delivery services, the State has 1700-+ more people with jobs, paying taxes (pot for potholes), buying groceries, moving the economy.  Since these are additional jobs, or ‘jobs on the margin’ as an economist might say, the savings to the State is $1,700,000 per every $1,000 in state support a displaced worker might receive if he required state support.  And by the very nature of the words ‘local entrepreneur’ it means less efficiency than big business.  That inefficiency is good for local communities as those inefficiencies cause more dollars to be spent locally.  The value is not only in helping with the distribution system but also from the dollars that locally flow from it.

Obligation and Benefit

What the industry needs more than new laws is self-regulation.  Self-regulation has been a very good business model for other industries.  Self-regulation picks up the slack that legislators and law enforcement can never address with the time and money they have available.  Self regulation, with industry standards, is a good first step over enacting new laws.  Laws can then deal with the bad actors.

With a rapidly changing industry it’s hard to take a reliable pulse of what is going on.  Since that is the case for dispensaries, the importance for like minded entrepreneurs to get together and offer solutions for communities and legislators is here.  To speak with one voice based on expertise and trust.  By doing so, independent dispensaries can bring something of value to the table where the policy-makers sit.  And protect their business model.

Ryan Richmond
Ryan Richmond

Patient advocate, investor, commercial real estate, and MPO board member.

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