Pot smoke and fears

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Michigan's medical marijuana community was abuzz with the news that a so-called "smokers club" in the Lansing suburb of Williamston Township had been raided by police last week.

The Lansing State Journal reported that the club's owner, the Rev. Frederick Wayne Dagit, had previously claimed the Green Leaf Smokers Club was a place where legal medical marijuana users could gather to purchase pot from caregivers and smoke in a social setting.

However, Dagit was charged Thursday with felony drug charges that include delivery or manufacture of more than 45 kilograms (99 pounds) of marijuana, two counts of delivery or manufacture of 5 to 45 kilograms of marijuana, maintaining a drug house and possession of marijuana, according to the paper.

On Saturday, the State Journal reported that authorities claimed to have seized more than 100 pounds of "recently delivered" marijuana at the club and at Dagit's home. Given the amount of pot Dagit is accused of having in his possession, it may be that this bust won't serve as a particularly good test case for determining the legality of either clubs designed to make pot available to patients or clubs established to provide patients with a place to partake in a social setting.

Detroit resident Tim Beck, who had a hand in writing the medical marijuana law voters approved in 2008, said that in a meeting with Michigan State Police early last week he was given a heads-up that authorities were actively investigating operations where marijuana is dispensed to state-approved card holders.

"They told us that, in their interpretation of the law, patient-to-patient transfers were illegal, and that dispensaries were illegal," Beck told us. "They said that there were investigations ongoing, and that arrests would occur."

"Twelve hours later," he said, "the place in Williamston got busted."

Under the law, state-certified patients are clearly allowed to grow their own pot or obtain marijuana wherever they can. However, the only clearly defined legal providers for patients are registered caregivers, who can have up to five patients and grow as many as 12 plants per patient. 

Beyond that, the law approved by voters contains gray areas that many observers speculate are going to end up being tested in court. Falling within those potential gray areas are so-called "compassion clubs" where patients can go to choose from a menu of different types of marijuana.

One such club is the 3rd Coast Compassion Center in Ypsilanti.

"One would think that when reading and interpreting the law, that the spirit and intent should be kept in high consideration," Jamie Lowell, one of 3rd Coast's partners, wrote in an e-mail to News Hits. "There are aspects of the law that a lot of us wish were more clear, but when one can gain the perspective that the purpose of the law is to pave the way for the patients, legally, participating in the MMMA, to get an uninterrupted supply of the necessary amount of medicine to treat their respective conditions, the 'gray areas' tend to dissipate a bit."

Beck pointed out that State Police enforcement actions are largely driven by local prosecutors. What is considered acceptable in one county may not be allowed in another, Beck said.

Beck is the head of a group called Cannabis Patients United, which he described as a collection of professionals such as doctors, lawyers and businesspeople. They've hired a lobbyist to help ensure Lansing doesn't try to infringe on the ability of legal patients to obtain and use their medicine. 

The State Journal on Saturday quoted Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III as saying the raid followed numerous citizen complaints about what the Journal termed "illegal marijuana activity." Dunnings also predicted that the questions in the law go beyond what the courts can clarify: "The law is so bad that the Legislature is going to have to act."

Along those lines, state Rep. Rick Jones, (R-Grand Ledge) last week announced legislation to ban public marijuana clubs. 

"Michiganders voted for the medical marijuana law so that people in great pain could use the product in their own home or in a hospice-type setting," Jones said. "They did not envision the creation of clubs where users could get high and then drive away, endangering people. I have no objection to pain relief in a true medical need situation and controlled by a real doctor. However, we do not need 'clubs' springing up in cities or next to schools."

Detroit attorney Matthew Able, who specializes in marijuana-related cases, agreed that it would be helpful for the Legislature to clear up confusion in regard to gray areas in the law, but he has a radically different view than Jones of what those changes should be.

When it comes to dispensary-like operations, says Able, "what we are seeing is an interesting patchwork based on how local officials and local law enforcement feel about them."

The key, says Able, is for the Legislature to take a more expansive view of the situation and amend the law to clearly allow for operations where patients can purchase their medicine from people who are not their designated caregivers. Such an approach would both benefit patients and provide much-needed stimulus for Michigan's beleaguered economy, Able says.

Along with the Legislature, activists are keeping a close eye on both the state attorney general and gubernatorial races that are under way. Policy directions coming from those two offices could have a significant effect on how the state treats compassion clubs.

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