Beware of the sharks 

Talking with some of the compassionate folks behind the green boom

Medical marijuana authorization clinics are cropping up all over the place. Grow schools and hydroponic equipment stores are getting to be part of the landscape. The state has received some 60,000 applications for medical marijuana cards and the number is growing daily. Although getting the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act passed took years, it seems that the world of medical marijuana is blowing up in a rush.

Maurice Cheetham has been involved with medical marijuana longer than most, and urges folks to be cautious when getting involved with it. "There are a lot of sharks in the water," he says.

Cheetham, a medical marijuana patient and caregiver, is the founder of the Midtown Detroit Compassion Club (MDCC). He has also served on the board of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, and in that capacity he traveled the state to assist compassion clubs in getting started, complying with the law and providing services to local communities. He says he's been "cultivating" the plant for 10 years. He's also involved with patient care at the Green Trees Medical Marihuana Certification Center.

The Midtown Detroit Compassion Club seems pretty low-key as far as compassion clubs go. It doesn't have a storefront, doesn't sell grow equipment, doesn't sell marijuana and doesn't charge a membership fee — although donations are accepted.

"We keep things limited, no advertising," he says." We're a small grass roots organization — a resource and outlet for patients. I try to point them in the right direction. We're careful with collecting information. We want to build real solid relationships as opposed to just signing people up into the club. We cater to the over-30 crowd. We want real adults, real patients."

In an area where caution should be practiced, Cheetham seems more cautious than most, but it's in the patients' interest.

"Learning how to cultivate was educating me," he says. "Learning the cycles of a plant, it's truly about gardening and getting in touch with nature. Calm down and learn about growing. Learn about human nature. Take your time learning how to grow. Don't spend a lot of money. Some of the people are being gouged. They spend $10,000 on a grow room and don't even know how to grow. If you take the time and patience to learn, you can be successful. But you can't rush it."

Cheetham works with cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's disease patients as a counselor or caregiver. He has to figure out which strains of marijuana work best for their needs. He says that indica strains are more physical and relaxing, while sativa strains have a more cerebral and energetic effect. But even within those categories there are variations; there are some 600 strains of marijuana, each with different effects and potencies. Patients report back about how they were affected by certain buds and whether they liked them or not. He recommends leaving indicas alone during the day when you have to function.

Cheetham is one of the most visible African-American activists on the local medical marijuana scene. While there are many blacks involved as patients and caregivers, medical marijuana is not a racial issue and none of the black organizations that tend to address social and political issues have spoken out on it. Like AIDS, it's an uneasy issue to raise in the community. He says that he has called the NAACP and the Urban League but didn't get a response.

"The African-American community is very uneducated about medical marijuana," Cheetham says. "They're the last to grasp on. ... Detroit is at the center of the medical marijuana community. Real estate is being bought up to build grow rooms. We don't want Detroiters to get locked out of this. ... There are no ministers or churches involved that I can account for. I would love to build up a dialogue, just a discussion about the pure facts of the Michigan medical marijuana law, about issues of acquisition, cultivation, transfer and transport of medical marijuana. You can't sell marijuana just to anyone. There are facts to the law that need to be abided by. We do support compliance of the law. This is not the wink-wink, nod-nod situation."

One of the issues among patients is how to medicate themselves. Another Detroit activist, Chocolate Cherri, works patient-to-patient in developing recipes for edible medicating, and tinctures and oils for topical application. Chocolate Cherri is a pseudonym; she tries to keep a low public profile.

"I got into cooking it because I'm not a smoker," says Cherri. "A friend who has since passed away wanted to use but could'nt smoke. I said, 'Let me see if I can hook us up something; let me try this.' It was definitely trial and error. I've thrown away quite a bit of stuff."

I met Cherri at Metro Times' Higher Groundevent at Eastern market a few weeks ago. She was peddling her booklet Chocolate's Infusions, Medical Edibles and More, with recipes for marijuana butter and oil for use in recipes such as macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes and pasta sauce. There are also recipes for drinks and liniments. Most medical marijuana publications such as the Midwest Cultivator and the Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine feature recipes, but Cherri has quite a few in her 46-page booklet.

"Actually people were laughing at me. 'Yeah, how many brownies can you eat?' I don't do the brownies," says Cherri. "Then it was like, 'Can you teach us?' I was offering a girls' night out cooking class. Then I cancelled it. I was having some health issues. ... It was easier to do the book than it was to do the classes."

Cherri won't discuss her illness but says she has had problems since she was a teen. She was among the earliest Detroiters to organize a medical marijuana group, the Spirit of Detroit Compassion Club, and she doesn't have much tolerance for the party atmosphere of some smoke rooms.

"The only reason I can see for having a smoking lounge is for socialization," she says. "I am too old and too sick to give a damn. ... I'm looking for relief when I medicate. I'm more mobile. I can tell the difference. A couple of months ago, I told myself you're no longer having these problems. I went two weeks without taking anything, and all those issues that I had that I'd forgotten about came back. Now that I have developed topical, every day you see me I am covered with lotions or oils, or ointments or something. Parts of me that have more pressing issues tend to get more coverage more times during the day. If I'm smoking, I'm in a really bad state. If you have asthma you use an inhaler for emergencies, that's what smoking is with me. I prefer my topicals and edibles."

If Detroit is indeed a center for medical marijuana, people like Cheetham and Cherri give it a more meaningful, and tasty, filling.

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