Legal haze

Jun 23, 2010 at 12:00 am

More than 19 months after voters approved the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, the battle over the medicinal herb continues to blaze. 

Ferndale is one of the state's latest battlegrounds. The City Council there unsuccessfully attempted to close Clinical Relief LLC, a medical marijuana center, two weeks ago over zoning, according to Ryan Richmond, a company partner. 

The business, along with helping clients obtain certification and providing consultations on use, also sells pot to state-sanctioned medical marijuana users. The business model is similar to that of clinics the company operates in Colorado and Nevada, says Richmond.

"Call it what you will, we do dispense medication," says Richmond. 

He adds, however, "We didn't want to battle City Hall, but unfortunately we became a lightning rod."

Although the Ferndale City Council didn't succeed in having the clinic closed, it did enact, on a 4-1 vote last week, a 90-day moratorium on new medical marijuana centers. The moratorium gives the city more time to decide how to handle the fledgling industry. In Ferndale alone, there are as many as eight entrepreneurs interested in starting medical marijuana centers, says Mayor Craig Covey, who voted against the measure.

"We have plenty of regulations and zoning laws already in place in the city," Covey says.

Councilman Scott Galloway says the city needs the moratorium to confirm that the placement of medical marijuana distributors is "appropriate to the master plan."

"There's probably a place for [medical marijuana] here," Galloway says. "We're just looking at what other communities are doing."

Similar controversies are playing out across the state as municipalities grapple with questions arising from implementation of the law. According to Brandy Zink, a Detroit member of the national group Americans for Safe Access, more than 70 jurisdictions in Michigan have passed or are considering medical marijuana ordinances of some type. In some cases, officials are looking to help medical marijuana-related businesses become established, while others are attempting to either ban such operations entirely or regulate where they may be located.

Royal Oak and Mount Clemens recently passed similar 120-day and 180-day moratoriums, respectively. 

Another indication of the gray areas surrounding this law was the arrest earlier this month of a compassion club operator in Williamston Township near Lansing. In that case, the club operator stands accused of illegally being in possession of more than 100 pounds of pot.

The state's medical marijuana law, approved by voters in 2008, allows patients who have received a physician's recommendation and are registered by the state to either grow their own pot or obtain marijuana from state-registered caregivers. The caregivers can legally provide the drug to as many as five patients.

But the law doesn't address how and where people can legally obtain marijuana from commercial businesses, according to Eastpointe Police Chief Michael Lauretti

These businesses — called compassion centers — are causing confusion for many local governments.

"The law was poorly written to begin with," says Lauretti, the vice president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. "And it's in violation of federal law."

There is widespread support among the chiefs' association to alter the state's marijuana law to address commercial providers, Lauretti says. But he concedes that doing so will be an uphill climb.

There have been more than 18,000 patient registrations and 8,000 caregiver registrations issued in the state since April 2009, according to the Department of Community Health. And the push for increased access to marijuana is only getting stronger, according to Jamie Lowell, a partner at the 3rd Coast Compassion Center in Ypsilanti.

"The people who try to put the roadblocks in don't take it seriously," he says.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]