Social Equity Program for Marijuana Industry Falls Short

By Jenna Anderson

Earl Carruthers decided to pass the time in the Oakland County Jail by making conversation. The question, “How’d you get in here?” went around the room. One man was driving with an expired license. Someone else committed assault. Another attempted first-degree murder. Then it was Carruthers’ turn.

“I’m in here for brownies,” he answered. They all erupted in laughter. Carruthers can look back now and laugh, but the “Brownie Case” changed his life forever. 

Carruthers was a medical marijuana cardholder and caregiver when he was pulled over in 2011. He was carrying brownies laced with THC. The police used the 54 ounces of brownies as evidence in his arrest, disregarding the weight of the other ingredients in the treat. This put him over the legal 12 ounces. Carruthers fought the case all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court where he lost, giving him a felony charge.

“It’s not built for you to win,” Carruthers said of his experience in the legal system. “It’s herds of cows. You’re just getting stamped. It’s a machine.”

In September of 2016, the state legislature amended the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act to include edibles. Carruthers’ conviction is no longer a crime. With the felony charge Carruthers is not eligible for a medical marijuana license of any kind. “If it’s a non-violent scenario, you should be able to get to the table,” he said of his probation. 

There are several adult-use licenses he can apply for, but he said they’re not worth the trouble. “All these license types are a lot more costly than just the fees,” he added. 

The fact that Carruthers cannot participate in the marijuana industry contradicts Michigan’s Social Equity Program. This program works to “promote and encourage” participation in the marijuana industry for people who have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition, said a description on If an applicant qualifies, they are given a discount of 60% on application and license fees. Forty-one Michigan communities currently meet the Social Equity criteria, including Detroit.

“It’s a cute plan,” Carruthers said. “It’s like being invited to a party but you have to find a way to get there. And the party’s in Marquette. You need the resources to get there.”

Carruthers said the program lacks capital resources, real estate and business training. He suggested the state use the money from the fees and taxes to invest in a better program. His idea is similar to a car wash.

“You were beat up and dirty, then you enter this Social Equity wash,” he said. “You come out on the other end cleaner, smarter and able to participate.” Carruthers thinks this can be done through education, workshops and personal development training. 

“No one’s looking for a handout,” he added. “It’s teaching us how to fish so we can feed ourselves.”

“We have to identify what the root of the problem is,” Carruthers continued. “I’ve been disproportionately affected by this agenda that is rooted in evil envy and self-ambition.” He said prohibition has nothing to do with the plant, and all to do with keeping certain groups of people down, specifically African Americans, Hispanics, and low-income whites. 

“The plant was no more harmful than if I threw a marshmallow at you,” he added.

After he lost the “Brownie Case,” Carruthers considered giving up on the marijuana industry. He was ready to enter the hot sauce business when something pulled him back.

“The obstacle becomes the way,” Carruthers said of his current companies. He created Green and Greener Grow Collective or G3, an educational business where people can learn about and connect through cannabis. Craft Cannabis Club is a physical location of G3 in Detroit where like-minded people can come together. 

“There’s things you can do without having to touch a plant,” Carruthers said. “I don’t think the answer’s in the state. I think the answer is within ourselves.”

Carruthers has already started to implement some of his ideas through his businesses. One program offered at G3 is the Craft Cannabis Business consulting service which provides education on growing, processing and retail techniques.

“Let’s take it upon ourselves to help each other,” Carruthers said. “We can do exactly what we’re asking the state to do without the state.”


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