From County Commission to Cannabis: Huron View Owner Christina Montague

. February 29, 2020.
Christina Montague, right, with longtime friend The Rev. Jesse Jackson and her daughter Teesha Montague during a campaign event in Ann Arbor in 2012.

Meet retired public school social worker and former Washtenaw County Commissioner board chair, Christina Montague, is the sole owner and operator of Huron View Provisioning Center, which she formed in 2017. Her daughter Teesha, who has a business management degree from Eastern Michigan University, serves as the operation manager.

Montague is one of two known women of color in Michigan who obtained a medical marijuana business license under the MMFLA and is still open and operating. Her state-granted license is a highly coveted commodity. For the first 24 months after November 1, 2019, an applicant for most adult-use licenses must hold an MMFLA license before the applicant is eligible.

Montague says since she opened the location on Packard in east Ann Arbor for Huron View, she’s spent over $100,000 defending herself against harassment, threats and a frivolous lawsuit by competitors to run her out of her business and her location. She graciously spent some time with Current to answer questions.

What compelled you to enter the medical marijuana retail market?

My daughter was the first person to talk to me about entering the legal cannabis industry, with the goal of funding my longtime ambition of starting a family solar farm. She and I traveled the state for the past four-and-a-half years, educating communities on the cannabis laws in Michigan. We also inform others of the benefits of cannabis and CBD.

What are some examples of curative healing powers you’ve seen with cannabis?

The things we often see are women and men of all age groups with chronic pain or other distress issues. Our patients describe their cannabis use as a non-addictive solution for chronic pain, PTSD and other major physical and emotional stressors. Some are working to reduce tolerance and use of opioids, alcohol abuse and cigarette use.

What has been your experience as an African American woman in the industry?

My daughter and I are educated and prepared to be successful in this industry. It’s not easy but we’ve done the work and will continue to learn and teach others.

Can you talk about the industry’s predatory practices?

I’ve spent about $100K on lawyer fees since I began, just so that I’m able to operate my store legally, correctly and safely. There are people who want your licensed location, so they sue you. You can have a good record locally, and with the state, do everything right, but you can get sued so they can take over your location. Once you’re in a location in Ann Arbor no (other retail marijuana seller) can move within 600 feet of you.

Some lawyers, if their clients have money to sue, they will sue you even though they know you’re in your location legally. They have said to us, “we will sue you and bankrupt you with attorney costs.”

Our court case was dismissed in 10 minutes, but it took weeks of me obtaining legal affidavits from all my fellow business owner neighbors just to prove my legal status and defend myself against their bogus accusations. Of course, I had to pay attorney fees. The Ann Arbor City attorney’s office was very supportive and backed us in court too.

I’m not the only one this has happened too in the state, and it’s not just black women. I’ve heard some white operators talking about how they’ve been harassed also. If I didn’t have good lawyers I would probably wouldn’t have a business today.

What changes have you seen in Michigan’s medical and recreational business industry?

Something is wrong because they are continuously running short or running out of flower available for businesses to purchase in the state system.

When we first started, we were paying $2,000 to $3000 a pound. Now the costs are steadily increasing to $4000 to $5,000 a pound, or more. I’m hoping the state doesn’t let the big companies push out the small companies due to a lack of cannabis available for sale.

Where would you like to see this industry in five years?

Definitely more diverse industry ownership, with better opportunities for everyday people (not just corporations) to have a realistic chance for success in the industry. More research capital support would be so helpful for more complete scientific information to better serve/help our patients and break the stigma of this amazing plant.

And last but not least, my hope is that the Michigan Regulatory Agency will immediately implement rules that protect minorities and small businesses from attorneys who file court lawsuits designed to bankrupt owners and put them out of business. We need to put pressure on the people who administer the program to protect legal business owners from these predatory practices.

Where would you like to see yourself and your business in ten years?

With a portfolio of cannabis businesses that provide employment for local constituents and give back to, and help stimulate, the community.

What do you see as being the greatest challenges to women and people of color in entering this market?

Lack of financing and racism. It’s disheartening.

What do you see as being the most significant challenges that the State has in regulating this market?

Illicit market businesses, criminal activity and rules, and opportunities that only benefit wealthy cannabis investors and business owners.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

My daughter and I are very appreciative of the leadership Governor Whitmer is providing in making the industry open and nondiscriminatory for all. State Senator Jeff Irwin educated us (and many others) and continues to work to make the state cannabis industry open, safe and available to those wanting to get involved. I am very appreciative of the Mayor of Ann Arbor and City Councilwoman Anne Bannister, who personally worked to make sure the local licensing process was open and fair.

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