Marijuana » Higher Ground

Danielle Adams is making sure there's room in Michigan's marijuana industry for the underdog

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All kinds of people are trying to get into the cannabis business in all kinds of ways. Most of what we see in the media and in the storefronts represents millions of dollars invested. Some of those businesses squeezed in with just a couple million in the pot, and some of them have garnered big investors with big plans.

For instance, a recent article in Crain's Detroit Business ("Cannabis Retail in Michigan: The state of the state") profiled some of the most financially potent marijuana operators in the state. People from Gage Cannabis Co., C3 Industries, and Green Peak Innovations represent southeast Michigan Operations that each have tens of millions of dollars invested. They all operate or have plans to operate provisioning centers, retail stores, and big grow operations.

Those are the big guys motoring down the marijuana highway and sucking up the attention. Their plans are beginning to unfold as the recreational marijuana system takes hold in Michigan, and it looks like they're set to make a lot of money. Will it be the money of their dreams? Maybe not, but they're going to make some serious money. Of course, the people who are waving around millions of dollars already have money.

The people without a lot of money dream about making it in the marijuana business, too. They're working to find that chink in the armor, that niche where they can squeeze in on modest funds. That's where you'll find Southfield's Danielle Adams.

Adams' path to the marijuana world was a long one. She first tried it in high school. She says it was something her mother used that she wanted to check out when the opportunity popped up, but it didn't captivate her. It wasn't until her late 20s that she really began using marijuana for relaxation after a long day at work. Along the way, she got married, had three daughters, went to college, and moved from the assembly line to a corporate recruiting position at Chrysler.

"In my career path, I always wanted to own my own business," Adams says. "I got married young, I wanted to follow the path that I thought would lead to the American dream. ... I realized I did all this — that I'm sort of living the dream, and I'm still not happy."

Adams took a buyout being offered at the time and threw herself a big party, which literally led to her starting a business as an event organizer. She's been organizing weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, fashion shows, arts shows, fundraisers, and more through her Chic Events business around Detroit for a decade.

Adams also does other work in the mix — part time in food service (it connects with events), and she does a podcast called "Go Girls Detroit"' that streams on Radio One on Apple iTunes. She's looking to inspire young women like her daughters, the eldest of whom is 24.

Now Adams is looking at the cannabis business. She's been eyeing it for a while, trying her hand as a caregiver, although that didn't work out. She participated in the study groups on recreational marijuana run by the Marijuana Regulatory Agency last year, and she's scheduled to participate in a group on social equity in February.

After looking at the industry and the high capitalization costs of most licenses, Adams has come to the realization that the best thing to do is incorporate it into what she's already doing. Marijuana event organizer makes sense, and with a license fee of $1,000, it's the cheapest license on the list.

"I can do what I know how to do and still be a part of the industry," she says.

Of course, she's not going to get off for just $1,000. There's a nonrefundable $6,000 application fee. And another $500 per-day for events, and another $500 for each vendor selling marijuana at the event. And that's just at the state level. It's not clear what the rules in Detroit will be, but let's assume there will be some type of local permit fee.

The next cheapest license is the $4,000 for a Class A grower license (500 plants). A microbusiness license costs $8,000 in addition to the application fee. All of that might seem like small change next to the big operations, but getting that kind of money together can still be daunting.

Of course that doesn't include a lawyer's fee. There's an emerging adage that says don't go into the marijuana business without two lawyers. That packs more costs into the proposition. Adams says she was told it would cost $500 for a one-hour introductory meeting and a $5,000 retainer fee to move beyond that. Marijuana event organizers may or may not need the legal punch, but it certainly seems prudent to check out that avenue.

These are the opportunities for the smaller operators to get into the marijuana business. Even at these relatively low levels, it's not a slam dunk. Adams hopes to get her application in sometime in February.

"It took a couple of years to figure this out," she says. "I'm hoping that by April I'll have my license. I'm hoping to host 4/20 events."

Most people know where the retail stores are because that's what's making the noise these days. But if you're looking for the party, you need to find someone like Danielle Adams.

Stereotypes live

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has released a 30-second anti-marijuana ad straight out of the past. The taxpayer-funded piece depicts a stoned guy sitting on the couch at his mom's house with a half-eaten pizza on the table in front of him. A 10-year-older version of himself appears next to him on the couch in a puff of smoke. The older version is dressed the same, except he's put on about 50 pounds.

"Keep smoking weed. I'm you in 10 years, no career, no friends, no money," says the overweight double. "What happened to us? Marijuana messed with our brain. We can't focus."

Marijuana may be legal in Michigan, but apparently the folks in government can't get past the stereotypes and attitudes of the past. Apparently there's still a lot of work to be done. There might be some folks out there stoned on the couch, but there are a lot of marijuana users out there beating the bushes and trying to get their business started. One obstacle the business people have to fight is the perception that marijuana users all have couch-lock.

"No career, no friends, no money," Oh my!

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