Redemption: How We Got Here
My name is Ryan Basore; Ten years ago I left a lucrative career in the insurance industry to work toward the legalization of cannabis in Michigan. We made it, but what it took to get here should never be forgotten. Here’s my story:
From Caregiver to Criminal
I had always found great relief from my ailments with cannabis and had been advocating for its legalization since I was 18. When Michigan finally legalized medical cannabis in 2008, I became one of the first patients and caregivers in the state. In early 2010, while still working in the insurance industry, I took a giant leap and opened Capital City Caregivers in Lansing, one of Michigan’s first medical marijuana dispensaries.
My work at Capital City was transformative. On a daily basis I witnessed the good that cannabis can do. I saw how cannabis helped many patients beat their addiction to opioids. I saw children’s seizures stop when all other medications failed. These and other successes were the exciting new world made possible by the newly-legal status of medical marijuana. This experience forever changed my life.
I went all-in on cannabis. I took a buyout and quit the insurance world. With the help of some business partners, I created a cannabis venture that met the legal definition of “full and substantial compliance with state law,” which were the parameters established by the Obama administration to avoid federal intervention.
As cannabis politics picked up steam, I became a prominent member of the movement and was invited to join Cannabis Patients United and Governor Granholm’s Cannabis Working Group. I also helped form Michigan’s first cannabis trade group, the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers. My work, goals, and vision were all in line. We were on a roll.
On December 1, 2010, the DEA, State Police, and National Guard raided our state-legal grow operations. I was outraged. These grow operations had received approval from the county prosecutor, state police, and local police. Only one year earlier, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder had publicly stated they wouldn’t prosecute state-legal medical patients or caregivers.
After the raid, my partners and I were under constant surveillance. We endured daily helicopter flyovers, and we were pulled over and shaken down multiple times. But we had faith that when President Obama’s appointee for U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Michigan, Pat Miles Jr., was sworn in, he wouldn’t prosecute our case. After all, we were in “full and substantial compliance with state law.”
No such luck. Despite the federal recommendation to not use federal resources to prosecute state-compliant ventures, Mr. Miles viewed our case as “high-profile” and worthy of prosecution. Two days after he took office, federal agents raided my home; a month later I was charged with 13 federal counts related to the manufacture and distribution of marijuana. The most painful part was that my six partners, including my future brother-in-law and father-in-law, were indicted as well.
I vowed to fight, but after exhausting my savings before even getting to trial, my options were limited. I was the last of the group to face court, and I pleaded guilty. I received a sentence of four years in FCI Morgantown, the harshest penalty given to anyone in our group.
In prison, I put myself on a disciplined reading and workout schedule. I read books on social media marketing and learned how to build websites. Once out of prison and in the halfway house, I immediately started my own internet marketing company and quickly grew it to over twenty cannabis-themed businesses.
Political Advocate and Cannabis Reformer
Soon, I was hired by MILegalize to work on the legalization campaign, and I was right back in the mix. I knew it would be an excellent opportunity to learn new skills and develop future businesses. Plus, I was back to helping Michigan legalize cannabis for adults.
In January 2017, I completed the terms of my supervised release and hit the ground running. I started a cannabis consulting agency called Michigan Marijuana Licensing Experts (MMLE) that helped municipalities opt into the Medical Marijuana Licensing Facilities Act (MMFLA). I also started locking up valuable properties in communities across the state. The dream was to build a vertically-integrated cannabis company, and over the next 18 months that’s what we did.
In September 2017, I learned that Pat Miles Jr., the man who prosecuted me for legal cannabis and put me in federal prison, was running for Michigan Attorney General. All the experts were calling it “a done deal.” He seemed to have the whole Michigan Democratic Party behind him. The UAW and the Black Caucus had both endorsed his candidacy.
Although it was an uphill battle, I knew that I’d do everything in my power to keep this anti-cannabis crusader out of the AG’s office. So I threw my support behind his Democratic opponent, Dana Nessel, a strong proponent for full cannabis legalization.
I began holding fundraisers for Dana and worked to change minds in social media chat rooms for Michigan Democratic Party members. In the run-up to the Democratic primary, Nessel surged ahead in the polls, crediting her success to the cannabis industry and media’s focus on Miles’s reprehensible prosecution and imprisonment of my partners and me.
The atmosphere at the 2018 Democratic Primary in Cobo Hall was electric. The Michigan Democratic Party had pulled every prominent speaker they could to support the Miles campaign, but the momentum was with us. At the end of the vote count, Dana came out from her war room, embraced me and said we’d won the primary.
Despite her win in the primary, Nessel was considered a long shot to beat current Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, the Republican nominee for Attorney General. I hosted a large fundraiser in Lansing with almost all Republican attendees that were jumping ship to vote for Nessel, based on her libertarian criminal justice views.
Although the Leonard campaign outspent the Nessel campaign seven-to-one, Nessel triumphed and Michigan legalized cannabis on the same day. She acknowledges and proudly talks about how my case, and the cannabis community, helped win her the office of Attorney General.
Shortly after her election, Nessel asked me to put together a group of cannabis activists to help her prepare for office. That group met with the Nessel team and provided significant guidance to the new administration.
Developing a Responsible and Socially Conscious Industry
In January of 2019, I helped launch the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association and was named their Director of Business Development. The Association has already grown to over 200 members. I established revenue-generating programs for the Association with a trade journal and the insurance, ethanol sales, packaging, and business consulting industries. I recently earned my real estate sales license, too.
So how did we get to Redemption? Ten years of love, pain, defeat, and victory.
I am proud to have helped legalize cannabis the right way, where cannabis “felons” are actively encouraged to participate in the industry. Now a new battle has emerged, and it’s a fight to save the soul of cannabis.
I’ve had the government take away my cannabis business. I’ve had greedy, white-collar businessmen (who brag about not consuming cannabis) steal one as well. I’ve sat in association meetings where new people entering the industry refer to cannabis consumers as criminals, losers, and degenerates. They believe that all cannabis is the same and that quality doesn’t matter. Companies are attacking caregivers, home-grows, and micro licenses in the media. They are even working with municipalities to raid private caregiver collectives, hoping to stomp out potential competition.
My relationships, principles, and experience are now coming together at the right time for Michigan and for me. The dots are all connecting. Redemption will help lift people affected by the war on cannabis, honor the men and women who got us here and help preserve the culture of cannabis products grown with love and dedication.
"You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you of the well-worn path, and that will make all the diference." -Steve Jobs
When things were at their most bleak, I never lost faith in the path I chose. I have always believed in making decisions based on what is ethical and honorable. I’ve been working tirelessly and have stayed patient waiting for this opportunity. The dots are now connecting………it’s time for Redemption.