Roll, roll, roll your joint,
Twist it at the end.
Light it up and take a puff,
And pass it to a friend.
When I was in my late teens, the wannabe bad-asses in my Washington Heights neighborhood used to spit that nursery rhyme, pretending we were grown, though there was no rolling, lighting, or puffing. What there was, however, was a desire to be cool.
That was 30-something years ago, but cannabis is very different now. I’m reflecting on my summers in New York City, where I visited as an awkward, gullible and curious kid from Dayton, Ohio, because I’m thinking of lighting up—even though I don’t smoke weed. That’s because I was introduced to the Michigan-based cannabis brand Common Citizen recently during a two-day media event in Detroit.
What is Common Citizen?
Launched in 2018, Common Citizen (CC) is a privately owned and operated cannabis company that says it was "born in Detroit" and values people over profits. Sounds cliché, but after taking the tour and meeting the CC team, I am convinced they mean it. All of it, including its "cannabisforhumanity" hashtag
The two-day event centered on the launch of CC’s newest product line Principle, a pre-roll set that sees 100% of its profits donated to Michigan’s local community engagement and social equity programs. Staying true to the #cannabisforhumanity mission, CC is working with Cannaclusive, a collective for minority-owned cannabis businesses, to develop and scale initiatives that focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Touring Common Citizen in Detroit, Michigan
The tour included a visit to the 70-acre, state-of-the-art greenhouse in Marshall, MI, followed by a tour of Common Citizen’s flagship retail store in Flint, MI; a two-night stay at Shinola Hotel and dinners at Oak & Reel and San Morello--this included a Q & A presented by cannabis magazine Gossamer; a screening of the film Principle, a documentary that tells the stories of 16 Michigan citizens and their journeys to change the cannabis narrative, and subsequent introduction and rollout of the Principle joint set.
The Common Citizen operation, it appears, is truly bad-ass, and if it sounds like a lot of hype, believe it--or don't. Here are the takeaways you should know:
The Common Citizen Cannabis Growing-and-Processing Facility
No jewelry is allowed. Our group of 18 journalists had to wear lab coats, hairnets, and surgical shoes and step into a foot bath every time we entered and left a room. There are two massive Mother Rooms, where the growing begins. Plants are propagated and cut in these rooms to start the production process. The facility also contains an infrared room and a Clone Room, and CC uses a Priva environmental horticulture system to keep the grows in proper condition. The boilers run eight hours a day and there is very little off-gas, meaning that whatever isn’t used during the day is stored in a reservoir. This helps keep the carbon footprint to a minimum; everything is closed-loop. Also, CC has partnered with MIT and robotics companies. MIT "is hoping to develop A.I. by monitoring our crop," said CC’s Director of Cultivation, Kyle Kincannon, who led the tour.
Where are Common Citizen’s Retail Stores in Michigan?
Four locations: Flint, Battle Creek, Hazel Park, Detroit. The Flint flagship store is Neiman-Marcus slick, and maybe that's because one of the executive team members worked at the high-end store. In 2019, the Flint store won a rare ICSC Award for Retail Design. It’s bright and inviting with fancy decor and fancy-name employees–Bud Consultants and Citizen Advisors–a lounge area, and artwork, including pictures of jazz musicians, and a flag, accompanied by this description: "Betsy Ross created the first US flag out of hemp." When you walk in, you are greeted with this sign, which simply says, "FUTURE IS DOPE."
Who Works for Common Citizen’s Cannabis Operations in Michigan?
Throughout the greenhouse tour, CEO Michael Elias, a big, affable guy who spent 20 years in the medical field, talked about his employees. There are 300, he said, who work 10-hour shifts. He repeated that the "morale of the team is so high, there is just a 6% turnover rate" at the operation. It is clean and evident that the workers are happy. Even the woman who cleaned the restrooms--her name was Jade--beamed with pride when I asked her about her job. The leadership style takes its cues from Toyota's kaizen events, which celebrate continuous improvement in the evolution of its staff’s practices. "Our job is to get the hell outta their way," Elias said, of CC’s employees. He said the standards are written by the people who actually DO the work.
What Education Does Common Citizen Provide for Cannabis Consumers?
There is a bounty of information for the unwoke consumer to discover in "Citizen's Code," a booklet available in all of CC’s retail locations that explains everything from the types and strains of cannabis, to directions on how to consume it, to expectations users should have, to a resource guide.
Common Citizen and #CannabisForHumanity on Film
The screening of the 30-minute film Principle, by the award-winning production team Even/Odd and the creative agency Abouttime, was at the Jam Handy, an iconic Detroit performing arts venue. It featured a live jazz band, cannabis-infused cocktails, and a Q&A with some of the film's stars, led by Cannaclusive co-founder Mary Pryor. The most poignant moments during the two-day event came during the screening, including the story of O.G. Weets, who was locked up for five years on a cannabis-related charge. He went to prison at age 45, and when he came out at 50, he said he “had lost everything.” Similarly, Flint native and poet John Sinclair spent ten years in prison, 1969-1979, for marijuana possession. In the film, he made the ironic observation that a former police station was being turned into a marijuana-growing facility.
Following the screening, panelists talked about structural racism and different kinds of bias in the industry. Jess Jackson, who appeared in the film and spoke on the live panel, founded the Curvy Cannabis brand as a movement to challenge the way body types are portrayed in marketing and media. She said, “We’ve received so much propaganda around how much cannabis can cause harm—let’s create change within this community. Curvy Cannabis is a response to fatphobia in cannabis marketing and all marketing. All bodies are beautiful and should be included."
What is Common Citizen’s “Principle”?
The pre-roll comes in a four-and-a-half slick black tin with a QR code on the back and this encouraging message on the side: "100% of profits donated to Michigan communities." After the film, CEO Michael Elias made a statement honoring those interviewed who were formerly incarcerated on cannabis charges. O.G. Weets said, “I went to jail for a conspiracy charge—I couldn’t believe it. I felt raped.” During the time he was behind bars, Weets added, dispensaries were opening up everywhere and “it was all non-Black people. The racism that built this country is the same racism that’s running the marijuana industry.” That upset him almost more than anything else, especially because he was imprisoned on an unrelated charge. He talked about how Detroit’s infamous 8 Mile neighborhood changed from a strip full of prostitution to one filled with marijuana dispensaries. "The marijuana industry was gentrified once it [weed] was legalized."
What Cannabis Products Does Common Citizen Offer?
Common Citizen currently offers the following products as flower (plans for edibles and other categories to come):
Daily Dose (orange)
- for people who need to focus
Time To Shine (yellow)
- for people who want to get high, for real
Sweet Relief (blue)
- for people who want to relax
- for people who need to peace-out
- for people who want to support Common Citizen's goal of giving back to the community.
Principle will be available in stores beginning in December and I am going to light it up and take a puff and pass it to a friend--it's for humanity, one, and I am grown, now--no more pretending.