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The difficulty with dispensaries

By Adam Rubenfire, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 29, 2011

Chuck Ream was not happy when the Michigan State Police’s Livingston and Washtenaw Narcotics Enforcement Team raided his Arborside medical marijuana dispensary on Aug. 25.

“They’ve come into our dispensary … and taken — stolen — all of our medicine, all of our records,” said Ream, who was president of the dispensary, located on 1818 Packard Street.

The raid came one day after a state appellate court in Isabella County ruled that dispensaries are not authorized to sell marijuana under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which voters passed in 2008. Lt. Jerry Cooley, a spokesman for LAWNET, denied that the raids were connected to the appellate court’s ruling, saying that the raids were related to “previous investigations” of dispensaries in Ann Arbor.

Some dispensaries in the city shut down for a brief period after the court’s ruling. Since the raid on Arborside, new owners have taken over the dispensary, which was previously called MedMar.

“The last owner was wiped out by a theft. A raid by masked gunmen wiped him out,” Ream said. “He is a family man, with a wife and kids, and he has been really hurt by these outrageous attacks.”

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State Attorney General Bill Schuette supported the Isabella County prosecutors, and he released a statement following the ruling that said his office would assist other municipalities in shutting down dispensaries in their area.

Ream criticized Schuette for his actions regarding the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, calling his role in enforcing and implementing the act an “atrocity.”

“His goal is to defeat the voters,” Ream said. “He has no respect for the voters, no respect for medical cannabis, and even though the voters voted 63 percent for it, it makes no difference to him.”

Several interview requests for this article were not returned by Schuette’s office.

Ream said that Schuette wants the state’s medical marijuana act to be “invalidated as unconstitutional.”

“If you don’t have dispensaries, you can’t have the range of products to take care of the needs of (medical marijuana) patients that are out there,” Ream said. “Schuette is supposed to enforce and implement the law, and in this case, he is trying to destroy (it).”

Ann Arbor City Council member Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) recently attended a seminar led by Schuette that was intended to educate law enforcement agencies and local government officials on how to implement and enforce the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. However, she said the seminar didn’t serve its purpose.

“The presentation I went to didn’t deal with implementation at all,” Briere said. “(It) didn’t provide information to me that would help with understanding the impact of the medical marijuana act on local governments.”

She said the session focused on how to deal with citizens who were not abiding by the terms of the medical marijuana act.

When asked whether she thought Schuette had the best interests of Michigan citizens in mind, Briere said that was a question for the attorney general himself.

“I think he thinks he does,” Briere said. “People can only act on what they believe to be right.”

Briere noted that Schuette is advising municipal prosecutors and law enforcement agencies with a legal opinion that may be inconclusive.

“At this point, prosecutors and the attorney general are all interpreting the court’s decisions in the most broad, rather than most narrow, way possible,” Briere said.

She said she thinks it's an issue that officials interpret the court ruling to deem the sale of medical marijuana illegal. According to section 4 (e) of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, registered caregivers “may receive compensation for costs associated with assisting a registered qualifying patient in the medical use of marijuana.”

This section of the law gave prospective dispensary owners enough leeway to open their businesses after the act was passed. However, the act goes on to say that a transaction does not constitute the sale of the substance. The apparent conflict was the center of the Isabella County ruling, which ultimately upheld the latter section of the law.

Briere agreed with Ream that Schuette’s interpretation of the ruling is at conflict with the results of the November 2008 ballot initiative that passed referendum that passed to become state law.

“I feel that it is in some people’s best interest to interpret everything very narrowly, and that best interest is not necessarily the best interest of the large majority of Michigan residents who said ‘allow medical marijuana,’ ” Briere said.

Stephen Postema, the city attorney for Ann Arbor, has offered to assist in pushing for a local control law at the state level.

At an Oct. 26 meeting of Ann Arbor’s Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, Postema said the ambiguities in state law make it difficult for the city to issue licensing ordinances with legal authority.

“The city is in a difficult position, because when you think about it, the act of licensing and using the government to license something raises some problematic issues for us,” he said. “I know it is a disappointment, and I am not here to apologize for the law.

“The law is imperfect, and the law can be changed and I would encourage the law to be changed.”

In June, the Ann Arbor City Council passed two ordinances focusing on medical marijuana zoning and cultivation regulations to be implemented citywide. The passage came after the two ordinances were repeatedly postponed over a period of seven months.

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Ann Arbor resident Ben Ogren, a medical marijuana cardholder, said he grows his own marijuana and finds dispensaries “expensive.”

Ogren uses medical marijuana to alleviate symptoms he experiences from sinus infections. Ogren said dispensaries have an important role in aiding patients who may need guidance in deciding what products are appropriate for their specific condition.

He said they also are an attractive model for municipalities because they have been suggested to alleviate crime by removing some drug dealers from city streets. Dispensaries offer a safe, clean, secluded area where patients who don’t grow their own cannabis can get the help they need and be assured they are buying products that are safe and of appropriate potency, he explained.

“Plain and simple, they’re bringing money into their town,” Ogren said. “People are driving from all over the state to come to dispensaries that are here.”

Ogren said marijuana users have always used the drug to deal with problems such as anxiety or stress, even though the idea of legalizing medical marijuana is relatively new.

“The doctors are just kind of ushering it in as, like, being socially acceptable, I guess,” Ogren said.

Though members of Ann Arbor's Medical Marijuana Licensing Board will continue to meet, the future of the city’s dispensaries is unclear. Ream said state lawmakers are working to draft a local control law that will help cities implement the state law, but no legislation has been voted on as of yet. Further action by the attorney general could complicate the already convoluted legal conflict.