Michigan Growers Deal With the Flint Water Crisis

Flint, Michigan has a water crisis. In my hometown, we can't drink our water. Too much lead, too many microbes. The Red Cross brought a faucet filter and a case of water to our door, but that's a temporary solution for a long-term situation. The human cost of this man-made catastrophe cannot be measured; the disaster has permanently changed the lives of thousands of American citizens, young and old alike, and not for the better.

In an effort to minimize the human cost and ease the minds of medical marijuana patients in the city and surrounding area, HIGH TIMES looked at the potential effect the water crisis may have on marijuana plants grown in the city and used medicinally by the state's most ill and injured people. We found that the green industry in Flint has responded to the needs of the city's medical marijuana patients in ways no government agency could. Cannabis-based businesses and organizations are giving away water for people, water for plants, food for the homeless and hope for the future.

First, some history. Michigan adopted medical marijuana in 2008 but did so without creating the infrastructure seen in other state marijuana programs. There is virtually no support for the patient community from the state government. In the absence of state sanction, local cities have taken the task of regulating medical marijuana distribution on their own.

In early 2015 Flint bucked the trend and adopted a licensing and regulatory scheme for medical marijuana dispensaries. The city has vacant houses used as grow operations in support of the dispensary industry, but Flint's crime rate keeps most gardeners with resources out of the city and in the suburbs. In short, there are not as many production houses in the city as one might imagine; therefore the amount of medical marijuana grown in the water crisis area is limited in scope.

Those plants being grown with the tainted water are certainly contaminated, says Michigan State University professor of plant biology, Frank Telewski. Telewski also curates the W.J. Beal Botanical Gardens and is certified as an expert witness in the Michigan court system. “Lead is absorbed in living tissues,” Prof. Telewski advises, “and it does not biodegrade.”

Flint’s problem is caused by a combination of issues. Lead can leech into the water supply through natural processes. When the city began using water from the Flint River, the corrosive nature of the water turned the particulate lead into a soluble substance – and lead in solution is easily taken up by plant roots and body organs. “If the lead is soluble, it is getting in the plants,” Professor Telewski warns.

The solution is not to use the water – or, more commonly, to fix the water before it is given to the plants.

“Most gardeners with experience are using R.O. water in their gardens,” offers Steve Greene, host of The Full Melt radio show and a cultivator from the region, “so their plants are not exposed to any toxins.”

The Reverse Osmosis process (R.O.) removes lead, particulates and other chemicals from the base water supply. Those marijuana plants were protected from the crisis even before it happened by good gardening procedure.

Even those growers without R.O. systems can still get the water for free. Many local hydroponics and indoor gardening supply stores are offering the purified water for free, including Clio Cultivation. Buddy Dalton says he's been offering R.O. water for some time, but recently the demand has jumped. “We are giving away 50 to 150 gallons of R.O. water a day,” he says. “Our system runs constantly, and we're pushing the limits of the machine.”

Clio, the site of the annual HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup, is nowhere near the danger zone for lead exposure, but some of Buddy's clients are in the city. He's expanding his advocacy to include free purified drinking water and offering R.O. systems at big discounts to locals who need an affordable way to protect themselves from the crisis.

The medical marijuana distribution centers licensed by the city have not experienced any complaints about the quality of the cannabis being consumed, nor have they seen poor-looking medical marijuana being produced, according to Bob Johnson of The Sweet Leaf, Flint's most storied distribution center. “Just a little change in the chemistry, and it shows,” he says. “I've seen caregivers from the city over the last year, and there really isn't a difference at all.”

MI Legalize, the state's grass-roots effort to legalize marijuana, is taking action even though the crisis isn't exactly in their political spectrum. Local attorney Bruce Leach and the MI Legalize Board are sponsoring an event combining a water drive, a spaghetti dinner for the homeless and distressed, a signature drive to end prohibition and a fundraiser in support of the cause.

“It's our duty to help make things better,” Leach says. He's a lifelong resident of Genesee County and felt he had to do something for his neighbors. “I hope that feeding the homeless and providing clean water will draw attention toward a long-term solution to the water crisis.”

“What we've seen in Flint is symptomatic of the state government's past behavior,” said Jamie Lowell, a Board member of the MI Legalize organization and a HIGH TIMES Trail Blazer Award recipient. “It's why we have to change the system in this state. If Governor Snyder wants to run the state like a corporation, he should do what CEOs do when they make huge mistakes – resign.”

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