The sky isn't falling

Putting recent raids and the appeals court set-back in perspective

Medical marijuana activism in Michigan seems to have hit a roadblock the past few weeks in the wake of the State Appeals Court decision against Compassionate Apothecary, LLC, of Mt. Pleasant. After that ruling, hundreds of so-called dispensaries shut down and there were raids in Ann Arbor, arrests in Oak Park and the bust of a grow operation in Detroit. 

All in all it had the look, at least in the media, of a massive crackdown that struck fear in the hearts of marijuana users across the state. But a closer look shows that the blanket tossed out by State Attorney General Bill Schuette may not be quashing so much as it seemed in the medical marijuana world. For example, the People's Choice alternative medicine center in Ann Arbor is still doing business right across the street from Michigan Stadium

"The ruling said you can't sell marijuana," says Harry Cayce, a medical marijuana patient, caregiver and partner at People's Choice. "As a compassion club we don't sell things; we take donations."

However,  while the People's Choice and other facilities in the area stay open, two other places in Ann Arbor, Med Mar and A2 Go Green Corp, were raided the day after the Appeals Court decision. State police, who conducted the raids, say they had nothing to do with the court decision. No one had been charged by press time so it's hard to tell what will come of those actions.

The next cases are the arrest and charges against four people associated with Big Daddy's in Oak Park. Big Daddy's was originally raided in January but not shut down; the charges and arrests came in August. The actual arrests may have been held back until prosecutors saw which way the courts were going to go on the issue, but attorney Paul Tylenda, who represents the folks charged from the Big Daddy's raid, says the charges were dated before the appeals court decision. 

The timing could be coincidental, but medical marijuana activists say it points to collusion between the court and prosecutors — that prosecutors knew what the court was going to rule before the decision was announced to the public. I don't know that was the case, but the bottom line is that this was in the works long before the court decision. Also, the defendants have not had their day in court yet and it could be that they'll be are exonerated. In the meantime, Big Daddy's, which has four locations in other cities, has closed down its Oak Park facility.

The third incident, the bust of a growing facility with 12,000 plants on Detroit's east side, had nothing to do with medical marijuana, dispensaries or sales.  It was the straight up bust of an illegal grow facility. Police say the street value of the weed confiscated is $15 million, that may be slightly inflated but it's in the ballpark. That's a pretty good return on a building that owners bought for $1,000 from the city. News reports say the building was bought by Matt Tatarian of Beverly Hills and his now ex-wife. So far Tatarian is not among those who have been charged in the bust. That could change at any time. It took several months before anybody at Big Daddy's was charged after a January raid.  However, the $15 million value does point to the fact that this was a major operation.

Also last week, an Oakland County co-op grow facility was raided and police took about 500 plants from two buildings that each had 17 separate grow rooms. A police spokesman told the Morning Sun, a Mt. Pleasant-based newspaper, they are investigating whether growers were in violation of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. Again, no one has yet been formally charged, but as we found out in a Lansing-area case last year, group growing facilities are not looked upon with favor even for registered patients and caregivers.

And when you add up the legal actions, the well-publicized events change little for most of  the 100,000 medical marijuana patients in Michigan or for stores selling grow equipment or most compassion clubs that are not in Oakland County, although some patients have been inconvenienced. Cayce says that one woman who used to go to Big Daddy's now drives from Sterling Heights to People's Choice in Ann Arbor to get her medication.

Trans Love Energies in Detroit, which is co-owned by Holice P. Wood and John Sinclair, who writes this column on alternate weeks, is another facility that has stayed in operation since the court decision.

"No, we're not doing anything different," says Wood. "Within the first couple of months we hit our stride with the model that we thought would work. We're a private club. We do not consider ourselves a dispensary. You will not find jars of marijuana here. We don't have advertising out there on the best buds. It's a comfortable place for people to come and medicate. Some people do not have living arrangements where they can medicate. We'll provide transportation. It's a private locked-door facility. The MMMA says you can medicate on private property. It's not a 7-11."

There are still a lot of places open, and more folks are reopening after consulting with their lawyers. That may be more difficult if you are located in Oakland County, but other places don't seem to be a problem. The Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti city councils are moving forward with plans to zone and regulate medical marijuana facilities.

"We're open every day except football Saturdays because we're right across the street from the Big House," says Cayce. "It's a madhouse on those days. We're in the process of moving because we're not in the zone that the city says.  There are several zones that we can go into. They're electing a panel of five to oversee medical marijuana facilities — three patients, a doctor, and a city council member. Ann Arbor seems to be moving forward."

Advocates encourage patients and supporters to contact their state representatives about support for medical marijuana. Make appointments to speak to them when they are at their home offices, call and write letters. Don't show up en masse and unannounced. And above all else, patients and caregivers should stay strictly within the provisions of the MMMA.

 "Probably everybody is back open now with the exception of Oakland County and probably Ingham County," says Wood. "The rumor mill is that most people are back open. The guys that I talk to say, 'If they want to raid us, let them go ahead and raid us.' With the model that we have, you can't raid us just because you're suspicious. As long as you have a hard card and pay your membership fee, club privileges are open to you. We don't break any laws. We don't make parking lot deals.  I don't have that much available in my place. Are you able to get compassionate care there? Absolutely, that's what we are."

Things may have taken a step backward in Michigan  but that seems contrary to national trends. Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, points out that some states have responded differently than Michigan Attorney General Schuette to the memo regarding medical marijuana from federal Assistant Attorney General James Cole to state attorneys general. 

"Other politicians in the country got the same memo. ... The Vermont governor signed a bill moving them toward a system of regulation. Maine, they usually don't care what the feds say. They said we're going to have our dispensaries and tax them. Gov. Christie in New Jersey has even signed off on a program that has effectively told the federal government to go 'F' themselves."

Larry Gabriel

Larry Gabriel covers cannabis for Metro Times. He also writes the Detroit Watch in the monthly Michigan Cannabis Industries Report. Larry's chapter "Rebirth of Tribe" in the book Heaven Was Detroit, from jazz to hip-hop and beyond chronicles the involvement of Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison, Harold McKinney,...
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