This weekend, the Cannabis Cup will arrive in Clio, Mich., just 20 minutes up the road from Flint. With Michigan poised on the threshold of its regulated medical marijuana market—and the possibility of an approved recreational ballot measure in November—the timing of this national industry spotlight is fortuitous for companies like Liberty Meds.
“It's the biggest marketing opportunity of the year, in my opinion,” Matthew Krellwitz, social media marketer, business associate and in-house “magician” for the Flint shop, tells Cannabis Dispensary. “There's just so much to discover. I think it also helps you keep your edge as a business, because you're seeing all the new stuff that's out there. There might be something that catches your eye that you'd never imagine.”
Indeed, the event promises thousands of attendees from both Michigan’s medical marijuana patient bases and from the Midwest at large.
“It's a friendly event,” Krellwitz says. “When the Flint Journal comes out and does press on it, it’s always positive. The police presence: all positive. Prior to the event? Things are insane.”
He says he began work on his own product entry back in December 2017, saying: “You have to prepare. I say a year in advance, you've got to get your stuff together.” The last two weeks before the event are the busiest for entrants, hurriedly meeting lab testing deadlines ahead of the Cup. At Liberty, Krellwitz and his team have been hustling to get everything in place for this national spotlight.
It’s not unlike the entire state of Michigan, with its medical marijuana market hanging in a sort of regulatory limbo this summer. Cannabis companies across the state have been waiting six months to learn whether their license applications will be approved.
Liberty Meds is one of those companies awaiting news on its state license. The business owners applied for a state license in time for the Dec. 15, 2017, deadline. With a local license in hand, the team is eagerly anticipating its state license out of Lansing, along with 73 other retail applicants. (Hundreds of other businesses applied to the state without first obtaining a local license.) The state’s regulatory agency has extended its own deadline to issue those licenses to Sept. 15, 2018.
“Extending the deadline to Sept. 15 will make sure that this law is implemented correctly and assure that potential licensees are thoroughly reviewed. It is important that we ensure that medical marijuana patients have continued access to their medicine,” LARA Director Shelly Edgerton wrote in a public statement.
The current morass in Michigan comes after years of medical marijuana sales in the state, beginning in 2008. Liberty Meds was at the vanguard of the the state's “compassionate caregiver” market, which flourished in medical cannabis-friendly communities like Flint—one of the first places in Michigan to pass a local ordinance to allow medical marijuana transactions between caregivers and patients in a commercial building. Liberty operated as Michigan Compassion Center out of a distribution center owned by The Sweet Leaf, where several other fledging operations sold medical marijuana to patients.
That’s where Krellwitz met his current employers. Liberty Meds was working out of a suite down the hall in the building, and soon the young company brought Krellwitz aboard to its small team. Since then, in the last two years, the company has hired about 10 new employees.
“Flint has really taken care of the existing businesses,” Krellwitz says, noting how the city has guided local businesses like Liberty through this relative gray area of current state regulation.
As a longtime grower with experience in California and Switzerland, Krellwitz settled into the company and began experimenting and developing products for Liberty. Working in a start-up setting, he spent the first year juggling multiple tasks, like budtending and social media marketing.
“When it comes down to it, I'm just trying to connect with people and keep that going. That's really what it's about,” he says. “[I’m] just trying to maintain a good level of contact with patients. I need to stay connected to them somehow, because that makes products work. So, if I'm not connected, then there's going to be a huge rift there. And I don't want that to ever happen.”
Liberty Meds recently opened its stand-alone dispensary in an old UAW union hall on the edge of the Kettering University campus. The company has plans to open additional dispensaries in the eastern Michigan region, Krellwitz says. “We're paying very close attention to the county laws right now, because that's who we deal with in general,” he notes. “We're anticipating a lot of growth. We're on top of our rules—that's the biggest thing.