Though the office building at 202 E. Washington St. doesn’t look notable from the outside, one of its tenants owns a business that is rather controversial.
The business is a medical marijuana dispensary called the Ann Arbor Patient to Patient Compassion Club. The dispensary’s owner T.J. Rice sells several varieties of marijuana in addition to other products that contain cannabis.
Since Michigan voters passed the Medical Marihuana Act in November 2008 through a ballot proposal, regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries has been a recurring issue at Ann Arbor City Council meetings. Currently, the City Council is in the process of evaluating an ordinance that would establish rules for licensing the businesses. After a first reading of the ordinance was postponed last week, the city council will have a first reading of the ordinance for the second time at its Feb. 7 meeting, according to a Jan. 19 Michigan Daily article.
Rice, also a convicted drug felon, said he possesses marijuana for medical reasons. However, he said he isn’t a registered medical marijuana cardholder with the state.
The Medical Marihuana Act doesn’t refer to dispensary owners, leaving it up to individual cities to decide whether a convicted drug felon should be allowed to own one. The current draft of the proposed city ordinance prohibits felons from doing so.
Rice, who is a cancer survivor, said he is in the process of obtaining a card but sees little use in the identification.
“Cards aren’t important at all,” Rice said.
When asked why a convicted drug felon like himself would be so open about his line of work, Rice acknowledged that he is concerned about federal authorities, but said generating awareness about medical marijuana is the reason he’s in business.
“My job is 75 percent education,” Rice said. “The other 25 percent is protesting.”
At last week’s City Council meeting, several community members voiced their concerns that the city’s current temporary moratorium regulating medical marijuana dispensaries doesn’t do enough to protect the personal information of dispensary and cultivation facility owners. The temporary moratorium will expire at the end of the month, according to previous articles in The Michigan Daily.
Gershom Avery, a Dexter resident and medical marijuana proponent, said in a Jan. 19 article in The Michigan Daily saying that he doesn’t think the ordinance in question should require dispensary owners to register their personal information.
“The best solution is to remove the temptation to act as an agency of the federal government … by not compiling these lists,” Avery said.
Rice said he doesn’t think the final draft of the ordinance will call for owners to have their information listed.
“I think they will ultimately not require that,” Rice said. “It’s a violation of patients’ rights.”
Rice said if the final draft of the ordinance does contain such a clause, owners will comply, but not without resistance.
“We’ll abide by it, but we’ll sue them,” Rice said.
Rice opened his dispensary on Feb. 2, 2010, he said, mainly to raise money for Rainbow Farm in Newberg Township, Mich. Rainbow Farm is a pro-marijuana campground that was forced to close in 2001 after a deadly standoff between its members and the FBI and Michigan State Police.
Last year, Rice had his own run-in with law enforcement officials. He said on March 14, police came to his office after a fellow tenant reported the smell of marijuana.
Ann Arbor Police Chief Barnett Jones said that officers seized 17 to 19 plants in Rice’s office, according to a Jan. 23 AnnArbor.com article.
Rice said officers seized 30 marijuana plants, which are worth $1,000 each. He said police also seized his computer.
Though he was able to open for business the next day, Rice said he didn’t have enough money to buy more plants for six months.
“I want my meds back, I want my computer back and I want an apology,” Rice said.
Rice said he doesn’t think the city will voluntarily give back his property.
Rice added that he thinks Ann Arbor’s dispensary industry cares more for patients and is more sensitive to its public image than other areas.
“We don’t have four-foot neon signs in the front windows like they do a quarter mile from the state Capitol,” Rice said.
Though Rice said he thinks community members respect his business, one of his fellow tenants disagreed with this assessment.
Dawn Nelson, owner of Ann Arbor Hair Studio, located in suite 306 at 202 E. Washington St., said her experiences with Rice in the building have been negative.
Nelson said she doesn’t think Rice runs a legitimate business because he chooses not to be listed on the building’s directory. However, at the time of Rice’s interview with the Daily, his suite was listed as AP2PCC on the building’s exterior directory.
“He does not advertise where he is in the building, which leads me to believe that is an illegal business,” Nelson said. “If you were a legal business you would want to advertise where you are so that people could find you.”
Because the location of Rice’s business isn’t easily identifiable, Nelson said, people who want to purchase his products enter her hair salon asking where they can buy marijuana. She also said she thinks the dispensary’s presence in the building poses a safety problem.
“I feel extremely unsafe since he’s been there,” Nelson said. “I’ve had a break-in at my salon.”
Building Manager Jerry Spears said Rice’s one-year lease expires at the end of the month.
This week, Monroe resident Ken Rutherford went to Rice’s office to seek treatment for Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes body numbness and muscle weakness.
Rutherford, who came to the office in a mobilized wheelchair, said medical procedures to treat his disease didn’t alleviate his pain.
“They made a guinea pig out of me,” Rutherford said.
Rice said the proposed City Council ordinance would set a standard for cities throughout the state and the country.
“Ann Arbor’s ordinance is really going to be monumental,” Rice said. “The rest of the state is going to have to look at it and follow.”