Pubdate: Wed, 20 Oct 2010
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2010 Metro Times, Inc
Author: Larry Gabriel
Referenced: Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine


The Pot Boom Helps Grow-Shops Grow

Anyone who thinks medical marijuana is just a nudge-and-wink cover for
pushing legalization should speak with Rick Ferris, who has all the
fervor and sincerity of a man who got a second chance in life.

As Ferris tells it, he worked in construction for 20-plus years, about
13 of those as a foreman pouring concrete floors, pillars and other
industrial applications. In 2001, he injured his right foot, which led
to deep-vein thrombosis (a blood clot) in his leg. Ferris then
developed lymph edema, a painful condition of the lymphatic system
that causes localized retention of fluids and tissue swelling, in his

"I have pain in my hip, knee and ankle," Ferris says. "My one leg
probably weighs 120 pounds; the other leg probably weighs 40 pounds."

Ferris couldn't work after his accident. He was mostly bedridden and
says he was taking 120 Vicodin and 60 Xanax, powerful pain and anxiety
medications, each month. He was living in a daze. Already a big man -
his nickname is Big Daddy - Ferris' weight doubled to 600 pounds.
Because of his size he was prescribed larger doses of the drugs than
normal. When the Michigan Marihuana Act took effect Dec. 4, 2008,
Ferris' doctor suggested he try pot as medication and wrote a
recommendation. Ferris applied for a state card and received it.

"I'm not taking any Vicodin or Xanax now," says Ferris. "I lost 250
pounds. I don't lie around in bed no more. It saved my life. That's
why I do what I do now. Every penny I have is used to make sure this
law stays for people that need it."

Before the medical marijuana law passed, Ferris had looked around for
ways to make a living since his leg kept him from construction. First
he became the hot dog man. He bought a truck and traveled the state of
Michigan selling dogs and other snacks at festivals. Then he started
Big Daddy's Landscaping, handling the office while a couple of
employees did the legwork. He did OK for a few years - until the
escalating layoffs created a glut of people mowing their own lawns or
starting their own services.

Then one day a landscaping client who is a medical marijuana patient
showed him an apparatus that helps grow roots on plant cuttings and
asked him if he could fix it up.

"I looked it up online and made a simpler one," Ferris

 From there he moved to designing entire hydroponic growing systems
and started selling them. Big Daddy's Hydro started in the Oak Park
building that housed his landscaping service. Eventually the
hydroponics business outpaced landscaping and Big Daddy's moved into a
larger building.

"Making those is pretty much like construction," he says. "Get a
blueprint and follow it."

Big Daddy's Hydro has expanded to sell several different growing
systems, in addition to high-powered lights for growers and various
plant nutrients. Ferris and his wife Susan co-own Big Daddy's
Management, an umbrella business that all of their enterprises work
under. Those include the hydro business, classes for growers, Michigan
Medical Marijuana Magazine and the nonprofit Big Daddy's Compassion

Big Daddy's has 17 employees - almost all of them registered medical
marijuana patients or caregivers. The company leases two other
buildings in Oak Park where the grow systems are constructed. And just
last week, a new Big Daddy's location opened in Chesterfield Township,
where Ferris expects to soon hire two more employees. He's been
unsuccessfully seeking a business that will stamp metal hoods for
lighting systems, which keeps him buying from wholesalers.

All in all, if you take the word marijuana out of the mix, it sounds
exactly like what the state needs more of: entrepreneurs starting up
fast-growing small businesses.

The organization started the slick monthly Michigan Medical Marijuana
Magazine last fall as a way to get news about medical marijuana
politics and issues out to the public and a vehicle for advertising
industry products. Each magazine includes articles about legal
concerns and activism, recipes and instructions for edible and topical
marijuana use, and lots of pictures of various types of marijuana
buds. It was a gutsy move in an environment where print publications
are downsizing and failing seemingly every day.

"When we started the magazine, we said we'd give it a two-year window;
we said we would not give up on the magazine," says Ferris. "Our
upcoming December issue will have over 50 pages. The two years is out
of the question now. It's already paying for itself. Every month we
improve in sales."

MMMM prints 6,000 copies per month and works with two distribution
companies in addition to individual subscriptions. It retails for $4.99.

The compassion club was started in May to help patients and caregivers
produce and obtain their medicine. To date it has more than 1,400
members who pay a membership fee, and zero problems with the law,
Ferris says. He emphasizes compliance with the letter of how the law
has been interpreted so far. That means all transactions are with
card-carrying patients, and caregivers stay strictly within the
allotted 12 plants per patient. Messages left with the Oak Park police
and Oakland County Sheriff's Department went unanswered, but it's
worth noting that Big Daddy's was not included in the high-profile
August busts of marijuana dispensaries in Ferndale and Waterford.

Ferris says that about one-third of patients get their medication for
free thanks to excess production from caregivers associated with the
club, and most of the money in the operation comes from hydro and
light system sales. What it looks like from the outside is a business
with a philanthropic side mission. Ferris spends a lot of time at
meetings with other activists; he's a founder of the Michigan
Association of Compassion Clubs, he's active in political lobbying,
and frequently shows up at public meetings where cities are
considering how to handle compassion clubs.

More and more, when surveying news articles about medical marijuana,
words that apply to the business world come up. That's the approach
Ferris takes.

"I do spend a lot of time at meetings," he says. "What we do is
important not just to our industry but to our states. Look at
California; look at the money it brings to that state, a lot of that
could come to Michigan. It is an industry without a question. If you
counted up the jobs that this law has given this state, you're getting
into the tens of thousands. I don't think I'm exaggerating at all -
caregivers, lawyers, doctors, the schools. There are a lot of people
involved in this industry and a lot of people who want to be in this
industry." (For the record, state officials say they've given out
roughly 36,000 patient ID cards and have a three-month backlog.)

There is and always has been a lot of money involved in the drug war,
and those who benefit from it want to hang on to their cash flow. But
maybe it's time to see entrepreneurs in the drug business in a
different light.