Pubdate: Sun, 04 Mar 2012
Source: Ann Arbor News (MI)
Copyright: 2012 The Ann Arbor News
Author: Ryan J. Stanton


Tensions between Ann Arbor's medical marijuana licensing board and the
city attorney's office are behind a resolution on the City Council's
agenda Monday night.

The resolution seeks to halt enforcement activities against
dispensaries in Ann Arbor until council members can decide on changes
to the city's medical marijuana regulations.

Sponsoring the resolution is Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward,
who serves as the council liaison on the citizen-led licensing board.

The board is asking the council to clarify the city staff's role in
the dispensary-licensing process and wants City Attorney Stephen
Postema to delay further action regarding medical marijuana
dispensaries and cultivation facilities - except for claims that
they're in the wrong zoning district - until council makes a decision
on amending the city's ordinances.

The City Council voted 8-2 last June, after nearly a year of
discussions, to enact zoning and licensing ordinances for medical
marijuana businesses in Ann Arbor.

But when the city began receiving applications for dispensary licenses
last fall, the city attorney's office determined the city was
obligated by those new ordinances to confirm whether each dispensary
was legally operating in compliance with the Michigan Medical
Marihuana Act.

"This placed an undue and unanticipated burden on staff," reads a memo
accompanying Briere's resolution on Monday's agenda. The licensing
board voted in late January to recommend awarding licenses to all 10
dispensaries in Ann Arbor that have applied for licenses since last

The city attorney's office, through Senior Assistant City Attorney
Kristen Larcom, sent a slew of letters to the dispensaries recently,
requesting detailed information about their business models, and
asking questions such as how many patients they serve and how much
money they charge for their products.

Briere said if she were a dispensary owner in Ann Arbor she'd be
uncomfortable receiving one of those letters.

"I would feel that I was being asked to provide information somebody
could then play 'gotcha' with," she said, adding the city attorney's
office seems to be presuming the dispensaries are operating illegally
and asking them to prove they are legal. Dispensary owners aren't
happy and want the city attorney's office to back off, said Keith
Lambert, co-owner of the OM of Medicine dispensary at 112 S. Main St.
in Ann Arbor.

"We feel the city and everybody on the city level is behind us, but we
feel like the city attorney is kind of taking a personal agenda here
that's not really in line with the will of the voters," he said,
noting an overwhelming majority of Ann Arbor voters support medical

"If you went into Apple right now and you were like, 'I want to know
every single thing about how you do your business,' I don't think
Apple would be like, 'OK,'" Lambert said. "We're not trying to hide
anything, but this is getting a little ridiculous. Any other business
doesn't have this sort of circumspection surrounding it, and we just
want to be treated fairly like anybody else."

Postema says he has no personal agenda against dispensaries and that
he's just trying to enforce the law.

No presumption of legality

Briere shared some of the same concerns that dispensary owners have
expressed - that the city attorney seems to be presuming dispensaries
are guilty until proven innocent.

"The only scenario he envisions as legal is where there's one
caregiver and five patients and they're tied together through the
state registry," Briere said.

"I can't come up with a dispensary model where that works," she said,
noting caregivers are allowed to grow only 12 plants per patient and
it takes eight weeks to grow one plant. "So to get somebody to provide
you with a medicine you need is a constant battle, and if you are
somebody who is actually ill, fighting that battle becomes
overwhelmingly difficult." obtained copies of the letters sent to several
dispensaries on Feb. 24. In them, the city attorney's office asks
questions like: If a patient transfers marijuana to another patient,
where does the registered qualifying patient get the marijuana from?
And does any patient to whom marijuana is transferred ever pay,
donate, or in any way give money to the dispensary or to anyone else?
If so, to whom is the money given and how much?

"The courts have said these sales are illegal," Postema said. "And
therefore any dispensary that has a sale model, we would need to know
more about that.

"That's why we had the application process and they provided
information, and now we're asking for further information." Postema
declined to comment when asked if he believed any of the dispensaries
seeking licenses from the city are in compliance with state law, but
he said they're clearly in violation of federal law. He said he's
still analyzing the issue and he'll advise council privately.

"There's nothing unusual about it," added Postema. "And we cant just
say there's a presumption of legality because that's nowhere in the

Asked whether there's a threat of imminent enforcement action against
any dispensaries in Ann Arbor, Postema said only that the city has a
pending lawsuit against the Treecity Health Collective. The city
claims the dispensary at 1712 S. State St. is a public nuisance
because it's in a zoning district where medical marijuana dispensaries
are not allowed.

"My understanding from their attorney is they have or will be moving
shortly," Postema said. "To that extent, I'll keep in touch with them.
They need to move from the location they have, and whether and how
they can operate after that really depends on further review."

The licensing board has been meeting since October and has determined
some changes to the city's medical marijuana regulations could help
clarify the city staff's role in the process. The board released a
detailed report in late January with its recommendations.

The report recommended 10 dispensaries for licenses, keeping the
number of potential licenses capped at no more than 20, establishing
license fees and various changes to the zoning and license ordinances,
including deleting a section requiring dispensaries and cultivation
facilities to operate in compliance with the Michigan Medical
Marihuana Act.

Acting on behalf of the board, Briere is asking fellow council members
to discuss and decide on changes to the city's medical marijuana
regulations by June 18.

"The board feels the city should go ahead and license dispensaries
because of the need, and because if you don't license dispensaries you
can't control them," she said. "What the board doesn't want is to push
marijuana underground and it seems clear to me that concern is what
they're acting on. They want the dispensary process visible and public
and controllable."

In addition to Briere, the city's medical marijuana licensing board
includes four citizens: Jim Kenyon, Patti O'Rorke, Gene Ragland and
John Rosevear. The board is recommending the city establish a $1,100
license fee for dispensaries and a $350 fee for license renewal. Those
fees are separate from licensing application fees already established
at $600.

Interpreting the law

Lambert, who started his dispensary in downtown Ann Arbor in July
2010, said he believes his business is in compliance with state law.

"And we're talking about that with our lawyers," he said. "We feel
like there's a conflict in terms of how people interpret the law.
They're more interpreting the law and saying 'this is how it should
be' and they're stating it as fact, and actually this is still an opinion."

In addition to OM of Medicine and Treecity, the other dispensaries
seeking licenses from the city are: Green Planet, 700 Tappan St.; Ann
Arbor Health Collective, 2350 E. Stadium Blvd.; People's Choice, 2245
W. Liberty St.; Greenbee Collective, 401 S. Maple St.; Ann Arbor
Wellness Collective, 321 E. Liberty St.; MedMaRx at Arborside, 1818
Packard St.; Medical Grass Station, 325 W. Liberty St.; and Patient's
Resource Center, 3820 Varsity Drive.

The City Council is ultimately responsible for approving the licenses.
Briere said the earliest the council could have considered them would
have been in March, but now the process is likely to be delayed while
the council works to sort out all the issues surrounding the ordinances.

Postema said the council is welcome to make changes to the ordinances
as it sees fit. In the meantime, he's closely following the issue on a
statewide level.

"Certainly the courts are parsing through this, and we're taking the
time to look at all models that are being proposed to look at them
within the context of the law," he said.

Lambert and other dispensary owners are backing a grassroots
initiative to put the question of fully legalizing marijuana in
Michigan to state voters in November.

While that might cause other issues to arise, Postema said, it would
make it much easier to deal with issues around dispensaries at the
local level.

"In other states, the dispensaries are clearly legal under state law,"
Postema said. "And under ours, it's been this whole process of
determining what's what. The courts have had to look at it and it's
been a lot of work."
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