In 2016, eight years after Michigan legalized medical cannabis, Morgan Underwood was an undergraduate mathematics major at Michigan State University. She created a pop-up yoga studio at the school and collaborated with one of the city’s nearby medical cannabis dispensaries.
The pop-up was a significant catalyst for the Lansing native. That year, she became a licensed medical marijuana caregiver and devoted her free time to learning about and cultivating cannabis to better serve patients’ needs. From dank flower to even danker hash rosin, which was impossible to find in the early days of legalization, patients were amazed by the high-quality products Underwood produced. During her five years as a caregiver, she assisted more than 200 patients in obtaining medical marijuana certification in addition to growing and cultivating her own cannabis.
While she enjoyed meeting and getting to know folks who benefited from cannabis’ medicinal properties, she realized being a caregiver wouldn’t be sustainable in the long run.
“Initially, I wanted to cultivate cannabis and get a microbusiness license,” she said. “But getting that type of license is so expensive, and it’s a lot of hoops to jump through.”
It costs around $6,000 just to apply for a microbusiness license in Michigan. There’s also an $8,000 initial licensure fee that applicants must pay prior to obtaining the license. After the hefty fees, applicants must pass multiple background checks, find a physical location and provide detailed drawings and information about the proposed facility, including how the company will operate in a legal and compliant way.
The financial barriers to starting a microbusiness were discouraging, but Underwood pressed on. After obtaining a marijuana event organizer license, she transitioned to cannabis event planning and established her company, Ganja Girl. She graduated from Our Academy’s mentorship program, a 15-week course that offers free workshops, compliance support and pro bono attorneys for independent cannabis entrepreneurs and social equity applicants who are people of color. With the knowledge and resources from the program, in addition to her experience working in the cannabis industry, Underwood became the first woman of color in the city of Lansing to hold a state-issued cannabis license in December 2021.
“Honestly, event planning is kind of in my blood. My mother is an event planner, and I would help her with some of her events,” Underwood said. “I love collaborating. If I’m not having an event, I’m at my friends’ events supporting them in whatever way I can. I want Lansing to have fun events so they don’t have to travel to places like Grand Rapids or Detroit.”
Underwood created Ganja Girl LLC to support cannabis users, especially those who have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, by offering equitable opportunities and resources, encouraging community involvement and promoting freedom of cannabis use as a way of life. The company’s virtual events range from free workshops on topics like how to get a job in the cannabis industry, cultivation and harvesting to DJ livestreams that feature local musicians as well as Underwood herself.
“I never planned to be a DJ, but I love music and live events, so it just made sense,” Underwood said. “One of my friends, VNM$, who’s also one of our resident DJs, offered to teach me how to DJ. We would play basement shows with Mary Sherman (aka Grapefruit Jacuzzi) at friends’ houses, Twitch streams and even small shows in parks for free.”
The DJ collective eventually began playing bigger events and venues. Most recently, Underwood performed at this year’s Capital City Film Festival afterparty alongside other Lansing locals like Ace DeVille and DatGuyBlue and the Detroit-based techno-punk trio Decliner. Underwood will play at her first festival, Michigan Gems n Genetics, next month in Morley.
Information about future events and links to resources, workshops and community testimonials can be found on Underwood’s website, ganjagirlmi.com, and Instagram, @ganjagirlofficial. The DJ collective’s music can be found on Soundcloud, Spotify and other streaming services.
While Ganja Girl’s success has been worthy of celebration, Underwood said there’s much more work to be done.
“I would love to see more local faces owning licenses, products and brands, but I also want those people to have more say in the Lansing market in general,” she said. “From what I’ve seen, the Lansing community is excited to support local and help the small guys. At one point, we had almost 100 Michigan Medical Marijuana Program shops in the city that were owned by local caregivers, but you can’t find much local ownership anymore.”
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