Pubdate: Wed, 07 Sep 2011
Source: Ann Arbor News (MI)
Copyright: 2011 The Ann Arbor News
Author: Ryan J. Stanton, Political Reporter 


A recent police crackdown and a court ruling outlawing sales at
dispensaries has put a damper on the medical marijuana industry in Ann

Earlier this year, city officials estimated as many as 18 dispensaries
were operating in Ann Arbor, serving thousands of patients. But that's
changed in the last two weeks.

"To my knowledge, all of them are shut down," said City Attorney
Stephen Postema, adding the only exception might be People's Choice
Alternative Medicine on Main Street.

But even that one isn't expected to be in business

"We will be moving to close them down," Postema said. "And the reason
being, they are in an improperly zoned area and cannot operate there.
The owner there is currently moving to evict them, I understand, this
week. So we're letting that eviction process go forward."

Several medical marijuana activists -- including patients and
dispensary owners -- voiced their concerns before the Ann Arbor City
Council Monday night. They argued thousands of sick people are going
without their medicine now that dispensaries are closed.

Mark Passerini, a University of Michigan graduate and co-founder of
the OM of Medicine dispensary on Main Street, told council members he
shut his doors two weeks ago after the Michigan Court of Appeals
ruling came down and two local dispensaries were raided.

He said the controversial court decision has effectively forced tens
of thousands of patients across Michigan back into a state of limbo.

"There are over 100,000 patients around the state hoping that this
historically progressive and forward-thinking city of Ann Arbor will
continue with the licensing process you've worked so hard to craft,"
Passerini said, noting 74 percent of Ann Arbor voters approved medical
marijuana for qualifying patients. "Please don't take any steps backwards."

Before the events of the last two weeks, the City Council recently
approved licensing and zoning ordinances regulating medical marijuana
dispensaries. The city was expected to dole out licenses allowing up
to 20 dispensaries in the city.

That's looking unlikely now, though.

"The contemplated licensing ordinance only addressed dispensaries that
were fully compliant with state law," Postema said. "The dispensaries
that are in Ann Arbor are not in compliance with state law and that's
why they've closed."

Postema clarified that most of the dispensaries shut down on their
own, probably on the advice of their attorneys.

"I know the county prosecutor issued a statement last week warning
folks," he added. "Perhaps that had a lot to do with it."

Council members debated Monday night whether a new Ann Arbor Medical
Marijuana Advisory Board, set up to advise the City Council on medical
marijuana policy, is even needed now that dispensaries are deemed
illegal. But the council ultimately decided by a 10-0 vote to appoint
four members, including Council Member Sabra Briere, to the board.

Council Member Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, was absent.

Dori Edwards, owner of the Tree City Health Collective, said she moved
to Ann Arbor several years ago for its liberal ideals. She said she's
sad to say she had to close the doors of her dispensary two weeks ago
after hearing others were being raided.

"I stood outside the door and I turned away patients -- patients
coming up in wheelchairs and walkers," she said. "It brought tears to
my eyes. It was very, very difficult, because these patients didn't
know where to go."

She said one patient even commented, "I guess I'm going to have to
drive to Detroit and get it on the corner where I used to get it."

Ann Arbor resident Koos Eisenberg, a patient at OM of Medicine before
it closed, told council members she's not interested in growing
marijuana on her own, she's not interested in buying it on the street,
and she prefers going to a dispensary over a caregiver.

"In my experience in Ann Arbor dispensaries, I have learned about
different medical marijuana strains that are appropriate for my
medical needs. I have learned about options such as vaporizing, which
is safer for my lungs," she said, adding her experience with a
caregiver hasn't gone as smoothly and doesn't feel as safe.

"Often my caregiver is out of town," she said. "He has been

Shelly Smith, another medical marijuana activist, talked about the
economic impact of losing dispensaries in Ann Arbor.

"If the decision is upheld, then on top of the many, many, many
unemployed already, you can add at least 100 more in this immediate
area," she said. "You can add at least five empty buildings. At least
$30,000 a month in lost rent."

Chuck Ream, owner of the Med Mar dispensary on Packard Road, told
council members about being raided by the Livingston and Washtenaw
Narcotics Enforcement Team.

"My Ann Arbor business was recently attacked in broad daylight and
robbed by masked men with guns," he said. "My employees would have
called police, but the robbers were police."

Though his store was emptied by police and three of his employees were
taken into custody, no warrant was ever shown and no charges were ever
filed, Ream said.

"Of course, you know what their game is," Ream said. "If my investor
tries to get back his money that they stole, they will charge his
child with a felony crime. That's perverted. They stole all the
medicine. They went to the bank and stole what was there.

"They stole the license application that we had just gotten from the
city of Ann Arbor to become licensed and legal," he added. "The city
should defend the city charter."

Ream referred to a portion of the city charter, which was amended by
voters several years ago to read:

"No Ann Arbor police officer, or his or her agent, shall complain and
the city attorney shall not refer for prosecution any complaint, of
the possession, control, use, giving away, sale or cultivation of
marijuana or cannabis upon proof that the defendant is recommended by
a physician, practitioner or other qualified health professional to
use or provide the marijuana or cannabis for medical treatment."

Postema said state law, in this instance, trumps the city

"The city charter is bound in its parameters by the state law," he
said. "The city charter can't provide greater rights for dispensaries
when they do not exist in state law."

Ream said he's learned the bust at his place resulted from complaints
to police.

"The officers said the raid was caused because we had served two
people with expired cards," he said. "Well, if that was true, they
should have sent us a letter or given us a ticket."

Medical marijuana activists from across Michigan are expected to rally
on the steps of the state Capitol today. Several from Ann Arbor are
going, and they were expected to have a sit-down meeting with state
Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, this morning before the rally starts.

Michigan voters in 2008 approved use of marijuana to relieve pain and
other chronic ailments. About 100,000 people have state-issued cards
letting them have 2.5 ounces of usable pot and up to 12 plants.
Registered caregivers can grow marijuana for five people.

Passerini told council members the intent of the state act was to
afford patients safe access to medical marijuana. But he said
experience has shown it's unrealistic to expect a patient to rely on a
sole caregiver -- instead of dispensaries -- for their medicine.

"First and foremost, it takes a seasoned cultivator four months to
grow one plant, four months during which that legal patient may have
to do without their medicine," he said.

"Additionally, most caregivers are unwilling to bear the expense or
gain the expertise necessary to make edibles, tinctures, extractions
or topicals," he said. "These are all different means of delivering
medicine to patients."

Passerini said it's clear that state and federal law both need to

"Dispensaries cannot be allowed to be short-lived or a thing of the
past, but instead a very viable solution for the future," he said.

Postema said he suspects the Michigan Supreme Court will uphold the
appeals court ruling if it goes that far. He said it may take a 75
percent vote of the Legislature or another citizen-led petition drive
to legalize dispensaries.

Until that happens, he said, the city must follow the prevailing state
law and not allow dispensaries to operate in Ann Arbor.

"I have no choice but to accept that," Postema said. "The ruling is
the law of the state of Michigan and I think it is naive to continue
to suggest there's a conspiracy with the judges or there's a
conspiracy with this or a conspiracy with that." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.