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When Being a Law-Abiding Citizen Isn’t Enough: A Conversation with Earl Carruthers

Petar Petrov
Written by Petar Petrov

Cannabis entrepreneurs often fall in one of two categories: die-hard cannabis believers or natural businessmen. And then, there are those like Earl Carruthers, who are a lot of both, which is the only way you can be to overcome not one, but two major legal injustices and still keep your business and passion for the plant alive and thriving.

Carruthers is a former captain of the Wayne State University football team. Sports led him to cannabis and helped forge the mindset of perseverance needed on his long, bumpy road through the muddy waters of the newly legal industry, still haunted by the stigma of its illicit past.

After a pelvic injury and subsequent chronic pain, Carruthers, who had never tried cannabis because his idea of it was basically Reefer Madness, stumbled upon it in his research for remedies. His girlfriend at the time, now wife, vouched for it and made the introductions. Carruthers then realized that the very idea of Reefer Madness is the real madness.

In 2008, when medical cannabis became legal in Michigan where Carruthers lived, he already had a degree in finance and experience as a financial adviser at JP Morgan.  He saw an opportunity – not just a business one, but also an opportunity to do something he loved and saw value in – and grabbed it.

After taking an 8-week cannabis course to learn the technicalities of cannabis cultivation, Carruthers became a caregiver, which allowed him to provide medical cannabis for up to five patients.

This grew into a delivery service, which was his first cannabis business to crash headfirst into the law – actually, not the law itself, but its representatives and enforcers.

After being pulled over by the police, his 72 brownies, whose collective cannabis contents didn’t exceed the legal limit, were treated as if 100% of their weight and contents were cannabis. To make the ordeal even more outrageous, the trial treated the brownies as recreational after the judge granted a motion by the prosecutor, allowing them to black out the word “medical” on their labels and respectively denying Carruthers and his attorney to mention “medical marijuana” as part of his defense.

Such classic cases of blatant abuse of legal and bureaucratic power almost always fly because most people don’t have the time, energy, or resources to fight back and, therefore, choose to let things go. Carruthers didn’t just lie down.

While he didn’t win and his charges remained unchanged, what did change was the actual law – not bad for a consolation prize. Carruthers fought all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court in what’s now known as “the brownie case,” which garnered a lot of attention. So much attention, in fact, that as a result of the case, new legislation in Michigan was enacted, which accounts for the actual “usable material” in cannabis products.

But Carruthers was going to fall into the trap that the legal gray areas of cannabis regulations can be once again.

When medical cannabis was legalized in Michigan in 2008, the law allowed a caregiver to grow cannabis for up to 5 patients, 12 plants per patient. But as far as providing assistance to patients, the law stated that “a caregiver can assist a patient” – not “a single patient,” nor “the patient,” but just “a patient,” which sounds like a wide-open consumer base.

It was this legal premise that made medical cannabis business in Michigan possible.

“I’m limited to how much I can possess. I’m limited to how many plants I can grow. But who I could assist, as long as you were a patient, there was no cap,” Carruthers explains. “And that’s how 400-500 medical cannabis stores in Michigan opened up.”

But Carruthers soon found out that, just like the law can vary from state to state, when it comes to cannabis, it can vary, at least in practice, even within the same state, from county to county, depending on the prosecutors’ and Attorney Generals’ personal, subjective views toward cannabis.

“It’s like driving down a freeway where one side of the road is raining and the other side is not. You’re on the same road, in the same state, the law says the same thing, but it just depends how your local prosecutors or sheriffs wanted to interpret the law according to their agenda.”

And the cannabis agenda of the Attorney General and county prosecutors that Carruthers was at the mercy of clearly wasn’t a progressive one.

“Even though more than 64% voted for cannabis medical use, the Attorney General still did not agree, he thought it was a mistake. Some of the prosecutors underneath him were also anti-cannabis. So, if you happen to live in one of those counties that had anti-cannabis prosecutors, then the Attorney General pretty much gave them the ability to raid stores based on one thing.”

That one thing was the aforementioned “a patient,” which prosecutors interpreted as the patient the caregiver is growing for.

“It’s true you’re limited to how much you could grow, who you’re growing it for, how much you could possess, but who you could assist was pretty open as long as the person had a medical card.”

Carruthers, along with many others, had literally followed the law, word by word, but when it comes to cannabis, that doesn’t guarantee anything.

“You find out that people could interpret the law that they want to and let the courts figure it out. If you have enough money to fight through it, good, but most don’t.”

Nevertheless, Carruthers didn’t let that second knockdown turn into a knockout. On the contrary, the experience only fueled the fire that a true trailblazer needs.

Now, besides a successful cannabis business, Green Greener Grow, he is behind the Craft Cannabis Club, which, like a motorcycle club, is a place of camaraderie for cannabis enthusiasts, and the Homegrown Weed Summit, where likeminded cannabis entrepreneurs can not only exchange their knowledge and experience, but learn from lawyers about how to avoid the legal obstacles Carruthers had to go through.

“The point of legalization is not to see who can make the most money or how big the sector can get. Yes, it’s going to be billions, but who cares? The point of legalization is to stop people from getting arrested, prosecuted, and put in jail over a plant.

About the author

Petar Petrov

Petar Petrov

Petar is a freelance writer and copywriter, covering culture, art, society, and anything in-between that makes for a nice story. And as it so happens, cannabis is a great element to add to each of those conversations.

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