Straight Talk 

Wrapping up MT's Higher Ground event at Eastern Market

The Metro Times "Higher Ground: A Home Grown Event" inside Eastern Market's Shed 3 Friday evening seemed to go off well; the Feds didn't bust in and carry everyone off to jail. For the two hours I was there, it seemed a festive, though not over-the-top, event.

Mostly I wanted to hear what the distinguished panelists had to say, but, since I got there about an hour before their discussion, I strolled around to check out the crowd and the vendors. Early on, it seemed the average age of the attendees was old enough that they indeed needed their medication. Not that the youth corps wasn't represented, but the generation to discover marijuana en masse — baby boomers — was in the majority. There were about 200 people there at any one time, although there were folks constantly coming and going, so I have no sense of the total attendance. I was headed home just as the Ben Daniels Band members began cranking up their Marshall amps, so maybe there was a whole different thing happening later on.

Fire is always a pretty eye-catching phenomenon, and there was a guy making glass pipes with the aid of a torch right in the middle of it all. There was more eye candy: Three young women dressed in fishnet stockings and very tight and short nurse outfits with green crosses stitched onto them wandered through the crowd handing out cards for a compassion club. One of them seemed to be constantly pulling the hem of her skirt down to keep certain parts under cover.

Many of the vendor tables were set up with various pieces of what I considered equipment for growing marijuana — some of it pretty expensive. Most of the rest of them had various pipes and vaporizers (for inhaling medicine without the debris of smoking) for sale. By and large it seemed an industry show for medical marijuana equipment.

I've heard proselytizers for the hemp (a marijuana relative that doesn't get you high) industry talking about all kinds of uses for the plant, from textiles and car parts to edible products and skin lotions. But I was surprised to find one vendor selling Hi T, an iced tea beverage that uses hemp in its brewing process. The sample I had didn't taste bad. Apparently it's available in some convenience stores around town. Although at $2 for a 12-ounce can I don't think I'll be drinking a lot of it. At least that's what they were charging there.

Shed 3 is a big, open space made for farmers selling produce. The problem is it was pretty unforgiving to the PA system used for the panel discussion. Even though it was held away from the vendors, the sounds of people talking reverberated throughout the place, making it hard to hear the discussion moderated by Metro Times News Editor Curt Guyette. I sat up front and listened hard and found it pretty informative. Here are some of the more interesting points made by each panelist.

Dan Solano, a retired Detroit police officer and founding member of the national group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition: Solano seemed the most pugnacious about opposing police coming into your home, saying, "You don't have to give up your rights" just because you're a medical marijuana patient. OK, but when the SWAT team is at your door with a battering ram, it's hard to impress them with talk about unlawful search and seizure. He also pointed out the hypocrisy of how municipal governments have approached medical marijuana during his years of activism. He said that, in the past, when proponents passed a local ordinance friendly to MM, opponents would argue that local law does not trump state law. Now that the state sanctions MM, opponents are using local ordinances to oppose it.

Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the Michigan ACLU: Weisberg has been spending a lot of time in Lansing talking to legislators. She said that local ordinances can be a serious threat to MM patients, citing a "white paper" distributed by the Michigan Municipal League designed to give local governments strategies to undermine the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA). One such strategy is to tie up potential growers with prohibitive ordinances about electrical and plumbing systems and inspections for indoor grow operations. She also reported on the case of 30-year-old Joseph Casias, a registered medical marijuana patient who has cancer. He was fired from his job at a Battle Creek Wal-Mart last year after testing positive for marijuana. The ACLU is representing him in a wrongful firing suit. Last week, his lawyers argued against a motion by Wal-Mart to have the case tried in federal court rather than in state court in Battle Creek. Obviously a Michigan court, where medical marijuana is legal, would treat the case differently than federal court.

Charmie Gholson, editor of the Midwest Cultivator, a Ypsilanti-based quarterly publication focused on medical marijuana issues: Gholson pointed out the disparities in how different municipalities are dealing with the MMMA, particularly the differences between prohibitionist Oakland County and more accommodating places, such as Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. "This is about geography," she said. She also talked about creating an organization called Mothers Against the Drug War for women to give testimony about how they and their family members' lives were affected by drug arrests. She pointed out that the failed drug war has cost us nearly a trillion dollars for pretty lame results.

Maurice "Moe" Cheetham, founder and director of the Midtown Detroit Cannabis Compassion Club: Cheetham, a former board member of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, focused on people issues, whether regarding caregivers, patients, police or community relations. He talked about how the state hasn't really addressed how patients who can't grow marijuana can get medication. "Where can they go?" he asked, while pointing out that narcotics such as Vicodin and Oxycontin can be picked up at drug stores everywhere. He also criticized some compassion clubs for focusing so much on costly growing equipment. "Is it about patients or is it about business?" he asked, and called on the medical marijuana community to police itself.

Tim Beck, pro-marijuana activist who worked for passage of the MMMA: Beck was more bodacious about the MMMA than any other panelist, and he was the guy behind the petition for the proposed ordinance to decriminalize marijuana in Detroit that the Election Board would not put on the November ballot. "It's been two years of MMMA and there haven't been problems. Marijuana is not out of control. Attorney General Mike Cox made a decision early on that it is up to the local authorities. Ann Arbor, Detroit, Traverse City, Ferndale, god help you if you live elsewhere." Regarding electrical concerns in grow rooms he said, "There are more fires created by Christmas trees in people's homes than from marijuana grow operations." At one point he chose to play devil's advocate and call for the outright legalization of marijuana statewide to clear up any problems with the current law.

Nobody else took up the banner on that one. Weisberg pointed out that any thoughts of legalization were a "much longer way off than dealing with the MMMA in the next two years." All panelists seemed to agree that activists fighting for their right to medical marijuana need to be good ambassadors who don't lose their cool at meetings and get into screaming arguments. The message was to educate yourself on the law and its issues, and talk calmly and rationally with others. And that seemed to be the rule for the evening — despite nearly a century of drug war rhetoric, people came together and had a rational conversation. No smoke screens, just straight talk.

More by Larry Gabriel

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