The Higher Learning LV™ Interview: Rick Thompson

Updated: Feb 20

In November 2021, Higher Learning LV™ conducted an exclusive interview with cannabis legalization advocate and entrepreneur Rick Thompson. Thompson is currently Executive Director of Michigan NORML and owner of the Michigan Cannabis Business Development Group.

Thompson is an active advocate, entrepreneur, and author. He is on the board of the Cannabis Caucus and is a member of the Redemption Foundation Advisory Committee. He has published two books, written for a wide variety of cannabis publications, and is an experienced podcaster.

Thompson, a popular thought leader and media publisher within the cannabis legalization space, received the 2016 Journalist of the Year award from Crystal Trichome and the 2021 Communicator Award from Jazz Cabbage Café. Readers can follow him at or via his weekly Jazz Cabbage Café and 420Post podcasts.

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The Interview

Higher Learning LV: "Rick, thanks for taking the time to talk to our readers, a range of business professionals within the cannabis industry. First, what attracted you to cannabis legalization activism? How did you get started and how did it lead to your current position as a leading advocate and thought leader in Michigan and nationally?"

Rick Thompson: "Michigan's medical marijuana ballot proposal was passed in November of 2008 and went into effect the following April. But instead of halting cannabis arrests, they increased dramatically for the next two years!

"In December of 2009, I and a partner published The Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine, a 56-page monthly with real-world talk on how to stay legal and what the law actually said...and didn't say. We published for two years, during which we participated in the launch of the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers, the state's first trade group.

"I was the spokesperson and we did a lot of talking. Since then, I've had a career of writing for and publishing magazines, online news portals, patient advocacy, and yelling at lawmakers—but it's always been that same thing: Helping consumers understand what's going on around them. I believe my message is accepted because it's real. Sadly, real is hard to find nowadays."

HLLV: "As Executive Director of Michigan NORML, what are your priorities for the state as the legal adult-use cannabis market matures?" RT: "NORML has always been an advocacy group for all cannabis consumers. Because the medical market is in peril at the current time in Michigan, we find ourselves fighting to maintain the rights of cannabis patients.

"Several years ago, NORML of Michigan was at the drafting table when the legalization proposal was being written. In the past, we've sponsored polls and surveys to give lawmakers and media a guide to how Michigan residents truly feel about cannabis law reform. Michigan NORML was there in 2008 when the medical ballot proposal was petitioned and passed. If our current board can live up to the legacy of our predecessors, I will be proud of what we do."

HLLV: "There's much talk among cannabis industry professionals about potential federal legalization in the near future. How will life for Michigan adult-use cannabis businesses change if the industry gains legal interstate commerce and merchant banking?" RT: "The effect of federal banking reform on Michigan cannabis businesses will be moderate, but welcome. Businesses that are doing pretty well already and will be doing even better after banking reform. Michigan's regulated cannabis market is up 56 percent over last year and continues to climb. Cannabis businesses deserve banking reform. They should not be disadvantaged the way they currently are. "Unfortunately, interstate commerce will turn the doing-pretty-well companies into hanging-on-by-a-thread companies. Michigan cannabis businesses are already experiencing a race to the bottom in terms of both wholesale and retail pricing. To open the state's borders and allow the overstocked west coast markets to dump their stale cannabis into a rocky marketplace like Michigan would be a business killer.

"In states with an emergent market, such as New York and New Jersey, it would stifle local entrepreneurship and put many American dreams back into the somebody-else's-story category."

HLLV: "A slew of new THC analog cannabinoids, including delta-8 THC, delta-10 THC, and THC-O, have flooded the markets of prohibitionist states. Do products containing these controversial cannabinoids exist in Michigan, either in legal channels or on the underground?" RT: "All of these products are present in Michigan now and will be for the foreseeable future. The commercial production and retail sale of these novel cannabinoids are all regulated by the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA), but personal possession and use is not (particularly for the state's quarter million registered medical marijuana patients). Delta-8 was commercially available for a long time and sold in regulated market stores, until recently.

"Our 2008 voter-directed medical initiative and the 2018 adult-use initiative give cannabis consumers in Michigan the right to explore. The Michigan retail environment is engaged and dynamic. Once the MRA licenses companies to produce and sell novel cannabinoids, they will sell well."

HLLV: "You're owner of the Michigan Cannabis Business Development Group. What is the company's core brand identity and how does it differentiate itself among other consultancies and ancillary resources in the Michigan market?" RT: "The Michigan Cannabis Business Development Group is an education events company. From 2015 to 2019, we hosted 12 large-scale small business seminars at hotels and University properties. These cannabis industry seminars focused on how the small- to mid-sized player can get into the regulated cannabis industry.

"The pandemic protocol halted the 300-person seminars. In the interim, the need for such information has somewhat died out. The MRA has fully developed the licensing process and there is infrastructure in Michigan to provide a deep level of assistance to those trying to obtain licensure. But the number of new communities allowing cannabis businesses to open is rapidly dwindling."

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