Regulating medical marijuana clinics
The fate of local medical marijuana clinics may be in the hands of the state legislature.
When the Michigan Supreme Court upheld a ruling that shut down a Mt. Pleasant medical marijuana dispensary for violating Michigan's public health code in February, it started a chain of events that could force Ann Arbor's ten dispensaries to close.
"I'm not surprised [by the decision], nor is any municipal attorney across the state," says city attorney Stephen Postema. "The dispensaries need to comply with the restrictions of the law, and the statute is clear. Patient-to-patient [sale] is no longer an approved method. It has to be [sale by] a caregiver, and they have to have no more than five patients."
In response to the decision, senior city attorney Kristen Larcom sent Ann Arbor's dispensaries a letter asking them to describe how their businesses comply with the law. The dispensaries' attorney, Denny Hayes, replied with a letter of his own outlining five business models the dispensaries could adopt. "Our goal is to get a model they approve of," says Hayes. "Everybody's properly zoned now, and we're getting no complaints from neighbors or patients or doctors."
"They're trying to be compliant," says Postema. "While we can't give advice to dispensaries, I'll provide some thoughts without advising them. We may have something done by July."
If the city and the dispensaries can't agree on a model, Hayes predicts "it'll be just like Jackson: cease-and-desist letters went out to the dispensaries there, and all eighteen shut down."
The city has a range of possible responses available, from writing tickets to closing all dispensaries. But Larcom says, "It can also be determined that nothing will be done. It's called prosecutorial discretion and prioritizing."
Inaction seems to be Washtenaw County prosecutor Brian Mackie's preferred course. "Believe it, or not, marijuana is not the most important issue that we deal with," he emails. "We will follow the law. We will handle any warrant requests that come to us" from local police departments.
LAWNET, the regional drug enforcement consortium that raided two local dispensaries two years ago? "LAWNET has bigger fish, too," says Larcom.
The dispensaries' best hope, says Postema, is a bill before the state legislature that would grant local communities the option to pass their own ordinances either licensing or prohibiting dispensaries. Postema testified in favor of the local option before the House Judiciary Committee in late May. "So far the committee's reaction has been very, very positive," says Ann Arbor state rep Jeff Irwin, a member of the committee. He believes the chances the bill will become law are "fairly good."
Irwin himself would go further: in April, he announced a bill to decriminalize marijuana altogether. "Basically it would take the policy of Ann Arbor and make it a state wide policy," he explains.
Though Irwin says "reaction has been pretty positive," he admits that decriminalization's chance of passing is "considerably less than the dispensaries bill." But even if it dies in the legislature, he says, that won't be the end of the issue.
Decriminalization, says Irwin, "is an idea whose time has come-and the only question is whether the legislature does something or citizens put it on the ballot."
[Originally published in July, 2013.]