Baby’s First Press Trip
Common Citizen’s nonprofit product launch.
The Broccoli Report
Friday, December 10, 2021
Time to read: 6 minutes, 33 seconds. Contains 1311 words.
Everything Seen & Pondered at Common Citizen’s Principle Launch
Since its founding in 2019, Common Citizen has quickly become one of Michigan’s largest operators. The brand fundraised and secured at least 45 licenses—the largest number awarded to any single company in the state. They’ve got four (soon to be five) retail locations selling flower grown at their massive indoor facility, an edible kitchen in process, and are almost done installing a CO2 extractor. The company is owned by a group of friends born and raised in Detroit, a fact somewhat obscured on the website, which features the images of a lot of people who don’t actually work for the company.
This month, the brand launched Principle, a preroll that will be sold in their stores. All of the profits will go to local community engagement and social equity programs in Detroit, facilitated with the assistance of a partnership with Cannaclusive. To promote the launch, the brand tapped AboutTime, a consulting group that focuses on “engineering consent through ethical cultism,” among other things, to organize a two-day media event in Detroit, and I was invited.
While I’ve been to my share of weed parties, pop-ups, and conferences, this experience was on another level—it included airfare, swanky meals, and two nights at the Shinola Hotel in downtown Detroit. If you do a little back-of-the-napkin math here (and factor in the costs of those consultants), it quickly becomes apparent that this was a very expensive event.
So what was it like to be wined and dined by a big operator? Here’s how it all played out.
Day One: The Media Arrives & The Schmoozing Begins
Although Detroit is mired in ongoing litigation about recreational use, at dinner the first night, hosted at the Shinola, each place setting featured Common Citizen joints alongside brand manifestos. I chatted with writers from local outlets and national publications, from High Times and Leafly to COOL HUNTING and HYPEBEAST. Many of the writers were based in NYC, and for most, it was their first weed event. (Apparently, If you really want writers to potentially cover your brand, pay for them to get wherever you are and stay in a cool hotel).
After a few courses and sidewalk smoke breaks, we enjoyed dessert while taking in a panel where founders of Common Citizen and Jessica Jackson, a local partner in their equity efforts who you might remember, discussed their backgrounds with cannabis along with more superficial questions like favorite strains to smoke.
Day Two: A Day At The Farm and The Main Soirée
Day Two started with a 9:00 a.m. call time for a Common Citizen cultivation facility tour—a 2.5 hour drive from Detroit. Of the eight or so writers in attendance, only me and the High Times editor had visited farms before. The other writers were excited to don a lab coat and hairnet, and they ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the dizzying rows of perfectly manicured plants, at the wave of dank, fresh cannabis aroma that fills the senses once you enter the flowering room. And it was impressive. At 170,000-square-feet, this facility was three times the size of the largest indoor grow I’ve personally visited—a true factory for cannabis, staffed with dozens of growers and technicians and equipped with state-of-the-art technological systems.
We were taken on a very detailed and thorough tour—as we neared two hours walking around the concrete expanse, I wondered if it was too detailed—but the crew is justifiably proud of the building. Mike Elias, Common Citizen’s chief executive officer, joined us for much of the trip. “This facility; this scale of production is why people keep writing us checks,” Elias said. The Linked Engineering and Manufacturing Platform (LEAP) methodology they use heavily influenced streamlined operations in car manufacturers, but Elias also took pains to emphasize that they center a people-first philosophy in the company’s culture. He highlighted Common Citizen’s low 6% turnover rate and showed us shift boards and scheduling control boards that build in non-working time for innovation, redesign, and execution.
After that—and a much-appreciated sample pickup—we piled back on the bus to drive to Flint, where we toured one of Common Citizen’s dispensaries. Again, it was impressive. They went above and beyond with educational materials explaining the endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids, and terpenes, even identifying mental health and counseling services by region. The products are organized by “need states” (i.e. “Sweet Relief”; “Unplug”), and the budtenders—called “Citizen Advisors”—were helpful and easy to talk to. I also appreciated the sniff jars that allow shoppers to smell before buying the prepackaged flower.
I can’t deny the dark irony of being driven to a well-appointed dispensary with an espresso bar to peruse $12-$14/g flower located in a city known for poisoned water and financial struggle. In past interviews, Elias has explained why Common Citizen has focused on Flint: “Because Flint deserves better. When I think of the renaissance that is going on in Michigan, my mind goes to Flint and Detroit … We believe the renaissance of Flint parallels the renaissance of cannabis beautifully.”
By the time we got back to Detroit, it was time for dinner, followed by the main event: the Principle product launch.
Local folks, Common Citizen staff, and writers gathered at Jam Handy for a documentary screening and experience organized by Limone Creative. While we waited for the film, we enjoyed delicious CBD mocktails, a live jazz set, and a gallery of stills from the documentary. A special shout-out to the hemp chandelier featured in the center of the main room—it was so cute for people to pull down branches to take home at the end of the party.
Created by filmmaker Mohammad Ali Gorjestani, the documentary featured a series of vignettes capturing the unique identities of people who enjoy cannabis. “This is an all-inclusive film, with a wide range of characters who represent Michigan in 2021,” Gorjestani explained. It featured professional bodybuilder Shannon Seely cradling her newborn and speaking to how cannabis helped her; priceless prose from activist John Sinclair; high fashion shots and thoughts from Muslim creative Amani Elewa, and other athletes, creatives, and brave advocates. Everyone in front of and behind the cameras were compensated for their time and talent.
Afterwards, Elias gave a speech about the company’s commitment to the communities they call home, Common Citizen’s duty to support social equity in cannabis, and how Principle is their way of doing more than “writing a check” by donating 100% of profits to “organizations working on elevating our communities from the ground up and creating sustainable change.” Afterward, Mary Pryor moderated a lighthearted panel with some people featured in the film.
Overall, it was a very cool experience. The film was fantastic (I cried), and I’m glad to hear it will hit the festival circuit in 2022—it’s the sort of stylish, accessible, moving storyteller that could attract a lot of attention and help destigmatize cannabis. And it is commendable that Common Citizen is setting up a product designed to make a long-term contribution to the communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition and that they tapped a diverse, socially-minded creative agency like AboutTime to execute its launch.
Still, as I checked out of my very nice, all-expenses paid hotel room, images of that endless sea of efficiently grown cannabis filled my head. I found myself wondering (*cue Carrie Bradshaw voice*): If this is what it looks like for a big company to “do things right,” why do I feel a little gross?
Tune in next Friday for Part 2 of my recap, where I will explore my icky feelings, including the ethics of accepting freebies from a brand you are covering and what gets missed when writers who don’t know much about weed get to cover new cannabis companies. I’ll also look into the troubled history that may have motivated this lavish experience: existing tensions between Common Citizen and Michigan’s medical patient and caregiver community.