Jamie Lowell, Detroit, Michigan

After more than a dozen years as a cannabis activist in Michigan, Jamie Lowell has seen the environment in his state evolve dramatically, but some things remain the same. Threats to safe access continue to emerge, and the diverse cannabis stakeholders and advocacy groups in the state still come together to combat them.

When the Michigan ASA chapter was profiled in the newsletter 7 years ago, activists there had just held a rally against recent federal prison sentences handed down to Michigan patients. This month, Jamie and a few hundred other activists were again out in force at the state capitol, this time protesting a proposed change in state law that threatens caregivers and home cultivation. Instead of imploring law makers to stop sending patients to jail, now the focus is on resisting the influence of big money interests trying to expand their share of the cannabis market by making state law more restrictive.

Michigan activists got tipped off that the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association (MCMA), a trade group of large cannabis businesses, was not just lobbying state lawmakers to limit the rights of patients and caregivers but had been circulating legislative language that would, if enacted, force more consumers to access cannabis through retail storefronts.

“We’ve known that this big money group with somewhat secret membership has been trying to grab market share using local regulation and state law,” says Jamie. “They’re gunning for caregivers by trying to lower plant counts, require expensive testing, and impose seed-to-sale tracking and other burdens.”

Currently more than 30,000 caregivers are registered with the state, helping provide cannabis directly to Michigan’s nearly 250,000 qualified patients. For many years, Michigan cannabis patients relied exclusively on a caregiver network of cultivators. From 2008 to 2016, state law did not allow for cannabis dispensary operations.

Jamie and other activists had hoped that rallies and protests would not be needed in Michigan any more, after they worked to elect a governor and attorney general who are allies on the cannabis issue.

 “It’s not like rallies are my first go to anymore. You do it to get attention and press, but a lot of us have figured out how to go directly to lawmakers and get heard. That’s what next wave activism looks like,” says Jamie. “But with this, people didn’t have a voice anymore. Everyone working on this needed a rally to have their voices heard.”

Numerous media outlets covered the capitol rally and interviewed activists, and a current state lawmaker, Cynthia Johnson, joined them in support. Jamie is hopeful the attention will help deter lawmakers from undermining the place of caregivers in Michigan’s system.

Caregivers have been central to Jamie’s work since Michigan’s initiative passed in 2008. As that low-key medical cannabis campaign unfolded, the opportunities all started to make sense to Jamie. His long career as a real estate appraiser had cratered with the housing market, and he had been a regular attendee at Ann Arbor’s Hash Bash -- held every April since 1972 -- so he was ready to dive in.

He read the new law, which was based on personal cultivation and caregivers who could cultivate for patients. He read California’s similar affirmative-defense initiative. He started making connections between patients and caregivers and looking for a central location. Jamie opened Third Coast Compassion Center, a dispensary named after his former appraisal company, in Ypsilanti in the summer of 2009.

“We were lucky to be in a favorable area,” Jamie says. “The city decided to permit us and do a local license, so we were one of the first to work transparently. We were figuring it out as we went.”

In the years since then, Jamie has seen groups and organizations form and splinter. But even with the infighting, there was also sharing of information and a sense of common purpose.

“Anytime there’s a threat, we go shoulder to shoulder,” Jamie says. It didn’t take long for the threats to materialize. “The feds were able to get to the municipal league and townships to stop proper implementation. They made it a way for police to shoot fish in a barrel.”

Jamie became politically active with the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers. In 2010, he was part of the first big rally at the state capitol, protesting federal raids and arrests. In 2018, he saw the initiative he helped author make cannabis legal for all adults in the state.

As much as things have improved over the years, there are still people in Michigan being arrested and getting their children taken away, so Jamie keeps working.

 “We’re introducing a bill to deschedule cannabis in Michigan. Currently it’s Schedule I and Schedule II simultaneously,” he says. “If we get this passed, it will no longer be in the criminal code. People won’t get arrested for $40 transactions.”

Jamie is also working to fix the damage done by the war on drugs, serving on the steering committee for a foundation to help get expungements and assist people with reentry. He is also on the policy committee for the Michigan Cannabis Freedom Coalition, which is working on reentry and preventing incarceration, and a member of the Cannabis Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party.

Jamies is currently the Directory of Advocacy of Social Equity for The Botanical Company, a vertically integrated operation with three retail locations and a soon-to-open analytic lab. The company is completing PFC certification.

Jamie is excited to see the revitalization of the Michigan ASA chapter, of which he was co-chair 7 years ago.

“I’ve been inspired by many people, but the glue for ASA in Michigan has been Brandy Zink,” Jamie says. “Her long experience with ASA and passion for the message explains the history and why ASA is important and credible.”

“One of the motivations for ASA’s return is to keep the patient focus in adult-use,” Jamie says.

This profile was originally published in the September 2021 ASA Activist Newsletter