Inside Track: Cooper’s fight is personal
Marijuana activist/educator and family member experience better quality of life after using drug.
Jamie Cooper said she is on cloud nine these days.
The exuberance she feels stems from the November election when Michigan constituents voted in favor of recreational marijuana, a cause she has been championing for years because of the medicinal value it has.
Cooper is the founder of Cannabiz Connection, an online platform that provides educational resources to entrepreneurs who are interested in starting a cannabis business in Michigan, which she founded in November 2017.
Earlier this month, she accepted a position as a publisher for Sensi Magazine, a lifestyle magazine that is focused on cannabis. The new position is a result of her activism for cannabis and the passage of recreational marijuana in Michigan.
Her strong belief in the medicinal benefits of cannabis was fortified when she lived in Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. While she was living there, she said she was suffering from bouts of pancreatitis and severe acid reflux.
Although she was consuming it recreationally, she said she didn’t realize the effect marijuana was having on her health until she moved to Michigan in 2014 and started applying for jobs.
When she stopped consuming it for a few weeks, because of the fear of being drug tested, she said her acid reflux and pancreatitis flared up to the point where she could not properly digest her food. She would regurgitate it.
Cooper said she realized marijuana was alleviating the pain, and it allowed her to consume her meals without any side effects. She wanted to continue to use marijuana, but she needed a medical marijuana license to consume it.
“I went four to six weeks without marijuana, and I finally gave up and (started) to consume it again,” she said. “I decided I was going to apply for jobs that weren’t going to drug test me. I started using it, and my health problems went away.”
Cooper started buying marijuana illegally off the black market and continued to use it because her health issues did not qualify under the medical marijuana policy.
However, she experienced an incident where she slipped on black ice and broke her ankle. She had plates and screws placed in her ankle and was later able to qualify for a medical marijuana license because of the chronic pain she was experiencing.
Because of her experiences, she became an avid advocate for medical and recreational marijuana in Michigan.
While she deemed the November election a success with over 55 percent of Michiganders voting in favor of recreational marijuana, it was not without some life-altering experiences.
Earlier this year, Cooper was one of the voices behind the Smart and Safe GR initiative, which aimed to establish medical marijuana facilities in the city of Grand Rapids.
She collected over 10,000 signatures from residents, so the city commission could consider opting into the Michigan Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA). After months of appealing to residents, Grand Rapids city commissioners voted unanimously to allow regulated medical marijuana facilities within the city’s boundaries.
That was another victory for Cooper, who was all too familiar with MMFLA, which was passed in 2016. Before MMFLA became law, allowing businesses to grow, transport, test, process and sell medical marijuana, she said she was actively involved in what was happening in the state government.
“I started hearing stuff was happening, legislatively, like some movement with these three bills that were stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee and they were House Bills 4209, 4210 and 4287,” she said. “The only way they were going to get life again was either getting a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but it was a stalled vote, they didn’t have enough votes to get it to move forward, or it could be dismissed by the Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, who happened to be my senator in Ottawa County.”
Cooper began meeting with state politicians and different municipality leaders as she started publicizing herself and also Canna Media Works, which is a marijuana marketing agency she founded in 2014.
She did not meet with Sen. Meekhof, but she was able to meet with his district director, Dennis Van Dam, who also was an Ottawa County commissioner and he was part of the West Michigan Enforcement Team, which is a drug task force, in early 2016.
Cooper said she was able to speak with him and convey her desire for the bills to be approved by the committee and later signed into law. Although Van Dam said he doubted the bills would move forward, Cooper said she left the meeting feeling optimistic.
“He pretty much told me that Meekhof did not want to (pass) the bills and, ‘Sorry, he is just not going to do it,’” she said. “But I felt great coming from that conversation though because I talked to him and I felt as though I had a great connection with Dennis himself, but he did make it clear that Meekhof did not want to (pass) the bills.”
Surprisingly, a few months later, in 2016, the bills were (passed) by the Michigan Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder. The law allows business owners to apply for commercial medical marijuana licenses. That same day, when the law was passed, Van Dam called her to congratulate her on the initiative she took in meeting with elected officials.
Van Dam also told her he was battling lung cancer and was interested in knowing more about using cannabis for his cancer. Cooper was able to connect him to a medical professional. He was able to get his medical marijuana license to start consuming cannabis. Van Dam passed away about three months after Snyder signed the bill.
“It was very sad news to hear because I think that his cancer and my conversation with him really had a lot to do with those bills getting a little more life, and it was nice sitting down with Dennis and getting to know him,” she said.
After the bills became law, Cooper said there was a great need for information and people wanted to know how the new law related to them and their situation. Again, she took on the initiative to create a Facebook group called MJ Business Innovations Support Group, adding content dedicated to medical marijuana in Michigan.
She said she started working with experts, like attorneys in other states who could clarify some of the details in the new law. Cooper also began hosting webinars and live broadcasts to educate the public about medical marijuana and what it means for residents in Michigan.
She hosted boot camps and workshops and partnered with experts to educate the public about medical marijuana, but her enthusiasm was hampered at the beginning of 2017 when she received some unexpected news.
“I found out that my father had pancreatic cancer, stage 4 pancreatic cancer,” she said. “The day he found out that it was stage 4 pancreatic cancer, they immediately started him on chemo treatment. A week later, I got a phone call and I found out that my sister was in the hospital ... (suffering from) liver failure.”
Cooper returned home to Texas to support her family and care for her father whose health was deteriorating, but she was flying back and forth from Michigan to Texas because she was also hosting medical marijuana events.
She said her father started using marijuana illegally in Texas to help with his illness and her sister, who had children, began inquiring about it. Cooper said she advised her not to because of fear her children would be taken away if she was found to be illegally consuming marijuana in Texas.
Weeks later, her sister passed away from alcoholism, and weeks after that, her father also died. After her father died, Cooper’s mom suffered a heart attack and a stroke, which she believed was because she was taking a lot of opioids and a lot of pharmaceutical medications at the time.
“(2017) was a very traumatic year,” she said. “Everything came full circle. I was so grateful that I knew things about cannabis, but it was just so sad because both my dad and sister were in Texas and they were in a place where they could not legally use cannabis. (With) these things happening, there were so many moments in my life that I feel could have been helped and relieved because of cannabis, had it been more accessible for people.”
At end of 2017, Cooper’s son was diagnosed with autism, but she said she is optimistic about her son’s and Michigan’s future. She said she will continue to work with municipalities to educate them about the use of cannabis.
“I am just so thankful to be able to do the things that I have been able to do,” she said. “I am so grateful that things are moving forward in the state, and I can’t wait to see all the amazing things happening in Michigan, for Michigan, like the way I saw it happen for Colorado.”