Marlissa Meah, owner of the Amplified provisioning center, describes herself simply as a homemaker who has raised her three children in Detroit. But considering all of the businesses she's been involved in — rehabbing and renting properties, owning and operating a couple of gas stations, and now owning a medical marijuana provisioning center — one wonders if her modest self description is fair.
"We've always been in business to supplement our income," says Meah. Her husband is a former city of Detroit worker.
However, something along the lines of homemaking seems to be what Meah is trying to do at Amplified's location on Seven Mile Road just east of Evergreen. Maybe you can call it community building. What Meah wants to do is to create a welcoming, homelike atmosphere for clients, and to be part of the community.
After she got her state license on Oct. 18, Meah went over to the local police precinct and introduced herself. She joined the local O'Hair Park Community Association, donated candy to a local group for Halloween, and donated toys for children at Christmas.
"We try to be part of the community, not just a store," says Meah. "We're an African-American family group. We try to let them know that we are here to support the community. You come here into a really clean, secure environment, and it's a very friendly environment."
It's definitely a family operation. Her son handles sales, her two daughters contribute ideas for the store, and her husband does whatever needs to be done around the place. That family feel is what may set Amplified apart in this west side neighborhood.
An older woman who came into the place while I was there offered an unsolicited endorsement. "Amplified is one of the best dispensaries in the city," she says. "I've seen it grow. It has grown to be the best. They taught me how to use the right [amount of cannabis] for my body. I didn't know about the different strains. I've been to a lot of the marijuana places, but I like this because it's personal."
It was personal to Meah to get into the business. Her mother, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law all died from cancer. Her husband is a cancer survivor. That all took place before medical marijuana came to Michigan. More recently, her friend's husband was diagnosed with cancer and used medical marijuana edibles as part of his treatment.
"We didn't know a lot about cannabis other than that it was weed," says Meah. "Then we started learning about it. People were telling us how it worked for them. Then people started talking about medical marijuana. I was like, 'What's that?' It was just new to us. ... That intrigued us."
Meah says she began to see how cannabis could help people "go from pain to being comfortable." "You're more open to things when you have lived with these diseases," she says. "When you get an up close and personal look at what cancer does to the body, or what [multiple sclerosis] does to the body, or what lupus does to the body... When you are living with it, your mindset changes."
Financially, things are tight at Amplified. Since it's a family operation, there are no deep-pocketed investors involved to tide things over until the unknowns in this new industry get settled. The one asset that may help the group survive is the fact that they own their building — although they had to do extensive build-out to comply with state regulations.
Since adult-use marijuana was legalized in Michigan in November, business at Amplified has slowed. Meah thinks it's because people are going back to their traditional black market dealers who can "gift" their customers without the overhead of getting a license and running a store. Meah points out that it cost $120,000 just to get the state license and another $6,000 for the Detroit license, in addition to paying to change the inside of the building and for security equipment.
The challenge Meah faces was apparent on Dec. 6 , the day adult-use marijuana became legal in Michigan. Folks were lined up outside Amplified eager to take advantage of the newly instated law. Unfortunately, the owners had to turn them away because although the facility has its state license, they only sell medical marijuana to state-certified cardholders. So the potential profits of those sales had to be turned away.
There is a sign outside near the front door that reads: "Stop! No Entry Without Valid ID and MMMP Card."
In general, people need to be told. Being in the marijuana business these days involves education. The general public knows something is going on with marijuana legalization, but most folks don't know all of the details the way activists and others involved do. Actually, things change so fast around legalized marijuana that even the folks who are paying attention often get confused.
Even for Meah, it has been an arduous learning process that she shares with friends. Her friend whose husband had cancer is trying to get a license for the House of Zen in Detroit.
"We're all new to this and everybody is learning, so we're learning as we go," says Meah. "It's a process. Everybody is learning what to expect. We tell people to come up here. We're going to educate you. You can have the benefits and be educated on what you can and what you can't do, and live a life of freeness without that pressure."
Meah is feeling the pressure, trying to make it in a business that can't get bank loans because of federal law. Meah got money from inside her family to do this.
"We're not a big store," says Meah. "We're a store that we put our money together and hope for the best. Give it all we got. All our eggs are here, we don't have outside revenue. We have invested in ourselves and we want to make sure it's profitable for us. We have been our own investors all our lives. My uncles loaned me money, my cousins loaned me money, my dad loaned me money."
What Amplified seems to have is a strong commitment to a friendly atmosphere and embedding itself in the northwest side community. Meah proudly repeats what one customer told her: "I come in here because you guys are so wonderful to us. There's a difference in going to a store and going to a store that treats you kind and treats you nice."
There are different approaches to this marijuana thing. This is the family approach. And as it happens with families, the folks at Amplified are trying to heal you with kindness.
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