To Illinois, With Love

To Illinois, With Love

By: Denise Pollicella for Culture Magazine

For half a century Michigan has been educating young minds at its most excellent universities, only to watch them move out of state after graduation. It’s called “brain drain.” Last year, according to the Detroit Regional Chamber, the drain was roughly 23,000 people, and most of them moved to Chicago. Now, thanks to Illinois’ new dispensary law, you can add Michigan’s medical marihuana community to the exodus.

Last month, Illinois passed what I will generously call a comprehensive bill, a 211-page monster addressing everything from dispensaries to discrimination in housing. Back in Lansing, where HB 4271 languishes in committee, it was barely a blip on the radar. Those of our elected officials who oppose all things cannabis are not mourning the loss of what they see as a few pot heads and drug dealers. Those who do not have no sense of urgency. And there, my friends, is our problem.

We have not adequately segregated recreational cannabis use from the urgent need for medical cannabis regulation in our messaging. For that reason, advocacy for dispensary legislation inevitably ends up tangled in a rehashing of the old, irrelevant, gateway-drug–teen-use–neighborhood-crime arguments that have nothing at all to do with providing safe access to a safe form of medication. In the meantime, Michigan is watching its medical cannabis industry go underground while states like Illinois, Nevada and Delaware are embracing this $1.7 billion industry that is expected to quadruple over the next five years.

It is hard, as a Michigan resident and business owner, to watch other states embrace economic and regulatory common sense. Just as we did for so long with the small business tax, and more recently with our reversal on movie studio credits, Michigan seems incapable of making decisions that support economic development at a community level.

In the span of five years, Michigan has gone from a would-be leader in medical cannabis to behind the times, and the innovators and pioneers are moving on to states where they will raise children, pay taxes and build communities of the future. You’re welcome, Illinois. Again.

For those of you brave enough, stubborn enough or—if you’re like me—tethered to family enough to stay in Michigan, what is the answer? I hope you will join me in continuing to maintain a sense of urgency in Lansing. To put the need for safe access to medical cannabis front and center for our legislators. To call their offices, sit down with them for coffee over the summer break and tell them your stories. Continue to educate your friends, neighbors and colleagues. Run for local elected office and support politicians that support safe access. Stay involved and keep fighting. I remain optimistic that, despite our state’s apparent perpetual fear of progress, common sense will eventually prevail and just maybe, we’ll manage to plug that brain drain.

But if you do go to Chicago, can you send me back some Giordano’s?