FLINT, Michigan — Ronald Higgerson has his own cure-all solution for Flint’s ills — marijuana.
But he doesn’t want everyone smoking it — just growing, harvesting and selling tons of it as part of a local medical marijuana industry.
If Flint voters elect him mayor in August, Higgerson plans to make the city a manufacturing hub for the drug, putting unemployed laborers to work. The political unknown is running as a write-in candidate for the Aug. 4 mayoral election.
His ideas are, well, a little out there. But he has high aspirations.
“We will base this off the (General Motors) model of production,” his Web site says. “Give the city of Flint citizens one seed, and they will give you back 100,000 plants.”
Not only would it create jobs, Higgerson says, the medical marijuana industry could also unite a city with a history of racial tension.
“It’s not controlled by white or black,” he said. “It’s legal here and it’s not going away, so let’s get our heads out of the sand and get to work.”
It doesn’t mean he’s all about getting high, Higgerson insists.
“I am not advocating kids to party,” he said. “I don’t want any kids to do any drugs before they’re 18.”
Though his ideas sound wacky, Higgerson is stone cold sober about his plans to transform Flint from “Vehicle City” to “Cannabis City,” in which millions of marijuana users across the United States could get their supply from Flint.
Believe it or not, medical cannabis could be the key to Flint’s revitalization, he said.
“This will be very serious work,” he says on his Web site. “After work, the last thing you will want to look, smell, taste or touch is cannabis.”
A maverick candidate if there ever was one, Higgerson, 46, has entered the mayor’s race even though he realizes the odds are against him — at least for now. Voters in Flint and across Michigan overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana use, but the drug is still illegal under federal law.
Standing outside the now-closed Flint Central High School last week, Higgerson envisioned the school as a marijuana growing site, part of what he sees as the larger Flint Cannabis Research Center.
Gesturing animatedly, Higgerson frequently gets off track and changes topics as he speaks.
But his message is clear.
“The people voted,” he said. “Let’s regulate it, tax it and educate.”
Higgerson — not to be confused with the Genesee County assistant prosecutor with the same name — is a fourth-generation Flint resident and former truck driver turned struggling artist who paints and sculpts. His great-grandparents owned and operated the local Budapest Cafe in the late 1920s.
He attended Atherton schools and went to college, only to stop a couple credits short of getting a degree in art, he said. He said he was a marijuana activist back in the 1970s and ’80s.
He lived in California and Nebraska for awhile before returning to Flint in 2007 and now lives on the city’s east side. Higgerson admits he’s not perfect, citing a past drunken driving conviction and a “not-so-good” personal credit rating.
But he said he’s advocating for the cannabis research center for the benefit of all patients in need of medical marijuana. Higgerson himself said he uses the drug to help with lingering back pain from a car accident.
“I could get it for myself and help a couple other patients if I wanted,” he said. “What I want to do is something for the entire city.”
As for personal politics, Higgerson is a self-described “Flint liberal with radical-centrist tendencies,” though he doesn’t consider himself a politician and won’t make campaign appearances.
Higgerson knows he has less than a slim chance of winning the mayoral election as a relatively unknown write-in candidate — let alone a write-in candidate with some of the ideas he’s suggesting.
He’s up against candidates Dayne Walling and county Commissioner Brenda Clack, both of whom have campaigned hard and survived the primary to make it on the ballot.
Higgerson said he’s not doing much campaigning.
“Even if I had a million dollars and a name, it’s a slim chance,” he said. “I know my ideas are controversial. But I always knew this is the issue I really would push.”
The way Higgerson sees it, the brand-new medical marijuana industry is a way to create jobs in a city battered by manufacturing declines.
His campaign Web site outlines an elaborate effort to change federal law to allow for more “open and honest” production and research of the drug. Among his plans for Flint: construct a research center near the Flint River to partner with local universities and create “municipal grow rooms” in vacant buildings.
But even though news reports show the cannabis industry is growing in states such as California and Colorado, Higgerson faces an uphill battle.
While it’s legal for those who have state-issued cards to possess the drug, there’s nothing in the law that spells out how people get hold of it, said Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.
“They can’t lawfully obtain a seed from a neighbor or a friend,” he said. “Before anyone starts talking about producing or distributing it or studying it, the law needs to be fixed.”
As for Higgerson’s ideas, Leyton said he’s not convinced of marijuana’s effectiveness as a medicinal drug, but understands it helps some patients deal with terminal illness.
“I’m not convinced, but based upon the fact that 63 percent of Michigan residents voted ‘yes,’ we ought to have a law that doesn’t talk out of both sides of its mouth,” he said.
By Kristin Longley