Higher Ground: Growing potential

Nov 18, 2015 at 1:00 am

There's a lot of talk about high rollers trying to get in on the growing marijuana market. Here's the tale of a couple of low rollers who'd like to get in on a market that — as Donald Trump would say — is gonna be HUGE!

Andrea and Ervin Allen run a family- and home-based business on the east side of Detroit. It's called A&E products; they're in the medical marijuana business. Andrea is a medical marijuana caregiver and Ervin is a patient. Their tale of interest in the plant goes back about 13 years when Andrea's father died from cancer.

"I came home from the funeral and got on the Internet," she says. "I looked up the top herbal medicines for pain in 1900 and cannabis was right there at the top of the list."

From that starting point, Andrea continued reading what she could find, learning what she could about "cannabis" — the scientific name that she prefers to use. She read what studies were available online and kept track of laws as they changed across the country. The couple began selling jewelry and other products with marijuana leaf images on them at activist events and business expos.

After the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act was passed in 2008, she became a caregiver for Ervin, who suffers back pain from his work operating a jackhammer for many years and undergoing back surgery. They began growing it, and she developed pain-killing oil that works for her husband and eliminated his prescription medication for pain.

The Allens learned how to grow potent plants through experimentation and paying attention to others at events as they talked about their growing techniques. They developed their own strains and named them: Grandma Gee, Grandpa Kush, Twilight Fear, Mad Skunk, and Apple Butter.

They've also developed a number of products to aid others getting into medical marijuana. They sell A&E Blend Dirt, A&E Organic Fertilizer, A&E Germination pellets, and racks for drying the plants. They have created oil for eczema and one to promote hair growth. They've created a 26-herb mix for shaking onto food.

"I want everyone to know that God put herbs on this earth for a reason," Andrea says.

The Allens have put together a PowerPoint presentation about medical cannabis, and presented it in various states where medical marijuana is used. Members of A&E's board of directors are spread around the country and they help set things up in their locales. The presentation includes information on the cannabis plant and medical uses, updates on the local laws, requirements to become a patient or a caregiver, how to grow it, and the equipment you need for a grow room or outdoor garden.

It looks like A&E is setting up a national network to market their products in a future where cannabis is legal. Wherever they can, they apply for licenses and certifications to do business so that when the time comes they will be ready to go. They even applied for a patent on one of their products. The guy at the patent office told them to get a lawyer.

"We were compiling this documentation and once we did we began to get licensed up," Andrea says. "I really went to town. We're the only black company that does what we do. My husband has been my guinea pig."

It's a family business that has developed with ironic twists. It was Andrea's father's death from cancer that led her to cannabis, and her husband's injured back that led her to develop pain medication. Andrea's activity was amped up when her sister who lived in Florida was struck with acute myelogenous leukemia. They moved her to Michigan so she could have cannabis treatments.

"They gave her three months to live," says Andrea in discussing her sister's years of survival. "I took my sister into remission. My sister has a twin. If rare diseases run in my family, it could hit my grandkids or me. ... They call me the mad scientist."

She wants to be ready for whatever health challenges may come her way. Andrea's mother suffers from multiple sclerosis and has been helped with cannabis. Family members with military backgrounds have led to her looking into cannabis for PTSD — they have a presentation on that. She has a cousin who owns 10 acres of land in Michigan and she's looking at the laws as they evolve for an opportunity to do some next-level growing.

In the yard they grow organic herbs and vegetables. They also grow plants that keep pests away from gardens and have even started experimenting with exotic flowers as a possible future revenue stream. Andrea is president of the Roxbury Street Block Club and recall some confrontations about her cannabis proselytizing.

"I don't argue with people about cannabis anymore," Andrea says. "I'm a caring person. I have to grow."

Cannabis awareness started in the family because of health issues and has grown into the kind of groundwork that could blossom as a business for the Allens. They deserve a chance at this as much as anybody else. Now that medical marijuana is more acceptable and recreational use has its foot in the door, big-money investors want to jump in and make a lot more money. That's part of the national conversation about marijuana this past year. It is going to be huge; it already is. But there needs to be a place for all levels of participants. Maybe that's the lesson from Ohio where a legalization initiative was voted down.

Those who are trying to lock up the market for themselves are preying on the fears of people who are afraid of marijuana. They basically tell them that they are going to lock it up tight, dole it out sparsely, and keep it away from their kids. However it goes down there is going to be regulation unheard of in a formerly underground industry.

However, there still needs to be a place for small businesses with boutique products. It takes all kinds. The robust craft beer industry might be a model in terms of the way they bridge a gap and create a diversity of products that used to not exist. That's the kind of space people like the Allens could possibly aspire to and inhabit in the short run. They're considering all kinds of possibilities.

"One of my dreams is to open up a restaurant that is cannabis driven," says Andrea, "maybe a bed and breakfast with cannabis."

Dream on. It's a good dream to have. Let's not turn it into a nightmare for them by making things too tight. North America goes to pot Recent political developments show the potential for the entire continent to become a post-prohibition zone. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party won recent elections on a platform that included legalizing recreational use of marijuana. Since the election the Liberal Party repeated that it intends to pursue legalization quickly. It looks like Donald Trump may have to build a wall along our northern border to keep the drugs out (and make the Canadians pay for it with their filthy drug money).

In Mexico, the Supreme Court recently said yes to four specific people who filed a petition for the right to grow, own, and use. Personal use has been decriminalized there since 2009, but this begs the possibility that the right that applies to four specific Mexicans might apply to all Mexicans. Nothing specific is up, but the door has been opened and my guess is a lot of people are going to want to walk through it.

Finally, right here in these United States, the legalization train hit a bump in Ohio but still seems to be rolling along. Yes, Ohio said no by a 64-36 percent margin but let's just say the proposed law was controversial among marijuana supporters. Legalization still looks good in a number of states that will be voting in 2016. Personally I'm looking forward to a solid block of West Coast states where freedom rings. On the election trail Bernie Sanders wants to end prohibition, and Hillary Clinton has come out in favor of rescheduling the substance on the Democratic side; and the Republicans have at least brought it up. I loved it when Rand Paul chided Jeb Bush for his "privileged" use of marijuana while poor users went to jail. My guess is after next year's elections, there are going to be a few more legalized states and whoever is president will have to come up with a coherent policy.