May 26 • 05:55 AM

New industry stirring the pot?

Businesses sprout up around Michigan's Medical Marihuana Act

March 17, 2010
TRI-CITY AREA — Going green is taking on a whole new meaning as businesses sprout up around Michigan's Medical Marihuana Program.

So far, 19,550 people have applied to the program since April 9, 2009, the Michigan Department of Community Health reports, with 10,022 patient registrations and 4,305 caregiver

registrations issued. Patients and caregivers (growers) each are allowed to grow up to 12 plants each and possess 2.5 ounces of the herb. Caregivers can cultivate a dozen plants for up to five patients.

From there, it's simple math—and just plain business for some hoping to cash in on a "growing" opportunity.

Already an area commercial greenhouse supplier is noticing an uptick in sales of items used in hydroponic growing.

Niche publications among the businesses sprouting around the state’s new Medical Marihuana Act. photo by Catherine Minolli.

Ken Day, co-owner of Hortmark in Capac, says sales of premium soil mix and other related items are on the rise.

"The soil business has increased," Day says. "It's called a Pro Mix and it's the soil of choice for professional greenhouse people. It also seems to be a soil that fares well with hydroponic growing."

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in water using mineral solutions to sustain the growth of the plant without soil. It's a common method for growing some vegetable crops, especially in Canada. It's also a common method used in growing marijuana.

Day knows nothing about marijuana—cultivating it or otherwise. But he does know about the greenhouse business and he's seen a difference since Michigan became the 13th state to legalize the cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes.

"People can ask me how to get rid of a disease on their geraniums and that's all I care to do," he says.

But as a commercial supplier, Day has noticed an increase in sales to hydroponic centers. He's also noticed more walk-ins, people looking for supplies like grow lights, rooting compound and other items.

"Someone will stand at the counter and ask for tomato stakes and stuff like that in December and it's obvious that they're not for tomatoes here in Michigan."

That type of request in December may become commonplace as the number of medical cannabis growers increases.

Niche publications like The Midwest Cultivator and Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine have also sprung up, and the first Michigan Medical Marijuana Expo held in Detroit in August drew 4,000 people. The two-day seminar featured professional speakers, classes, workshops, equipment vendors, attorneys and physicians versed in the state's new law and information about business opportunities in the state's new medical cannabis industry.

"The obvious beneficiaries of thousands of new medical cannabis consumers are the clinics and physicians writing recommendations at $200 per annual visit," says The Midwest Cultivator in its fall 2009 issue. "Hydroponics suppliers have also seen brisk business, and the number of stores has jumped from nine in January to over 20 today.

"One supplier," the article continues, "Superior Growers Supply in Livonia, will soon be opening the world's largest hydroponic store boasting 14,000 square feet and providing new jobs with good long-term prospects."

On the flip side, growing medical grade cannabis can be a costly and time consuming endeavor. It's not as simple as sticking a seed in some soil and watching it grow. Like tomatoes or peppers, there are dozens of varieties of marijuana, some more effective with certain patients or in treating approved conditions.

To be successful, growers need to be well versed in cultivation and "cloning" of the plants and familiarize themselves with state laws and regulations.

Climate control, lighting, air movement, moisture, pruning and most of all space is required—making the endeavor quite an investment.

Cannabis is not covered by health insurance, either, so patients have to have the resources to pay for the drug.

In addition, according to the state's Web site, the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act "neither protects marihuana plants from seizure nor individuals from prosecution if the federal government chooses to take action against patients or caregivers under the federal Controlled Substances Act."

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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