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Posted on Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Ann Arbor officials continue to wade through haze of medical marijuana policy

By Ryan J. Stanton

Should Ann Arbor require medical marijuana dispensaries to be set up as nonprofit organizations that give back to the community? Should the city require inspections for dispensaries, enforce "purity standards" and require all pot to be "locally grown"?

Those were among the questions asked by city officials Monday night as the Ann Arbor City Council took up a new medical marijuana ordinance for the first time.


City Attorney Stephen Postema discussed options for regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in Ann Arbor Monday night with the City Council.

Ryan J. Stanton |

No decisions were made on those types of regulations, which were only loosely discussed. But the council voted 10-0 to approve the first reading of a new zoning ordinance hammered out by the Planning Commission that spells out where medical marijuana dispensaries can and can't go in Ann Arbor.

The ordinance goes on to second reading and final approval Nov. 4.

City officials still are considering additional regulations to establish licensing rules and address issues that fall outside the scope of the zoning ordinance. Those include building security and code compliance for electrical use, fire suppression, and ingress and egress issues.

City Attorney Stephen Postema told council members he's waiting for their direction on how to proceed with a "licensing scheme" for dispensaries.

He noted the staff of the attorney's office has been looking into the experiences of other locations around the country that have dealt with the rise of medical marijuana dispensaries — businesses he said aren't specifically allowed under state law.

"Michigan law says nothing about dispensaries," Postema said. "Some people believe that means no dispensaries are allowed at all. Other people disagree with that."

That's a dispute expected to be fought out in the courts. Postema noted that marijuana still is illegal under federal law, which he said presents a dilemma for cities like Ann Arbor that are searching for a way to regulate a drug newly legalized by state law.

"The federal government has said, as a priority, it does not encourage enforcement of medical marijuana prosecution for small amounts," he said. "It did not say that about dispensaries or anything else, and therefore that's the unique circumstances we're in. We have a substance unlike anything else … and municipalities have to sort this out, and it's unfortunate."

Postema talked about dispensaries in Oakland, Calif., where he said medical marijuana distribution is heavily regulated.


Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, said he's interested in exploring the idea of requiring medical marijuana dispensaries to be set up as nonprofit organizations.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"It was interesting that one of the chief proponents of medical marijuana who works at a dispensary there really said that, for places that are new, regulation really has been the key to success," he said, adding it will be for the City Council to decide which regulations are put into place in Ann Arbor. "I do think that it's not improper to look at the experiences elsewhere."

Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, and Postema both made note of a recent article in The Detroit Free Press. That article reported that the communities across the country that appear to be managing medical marijuana distribution the best — where there are few raids, arrests or court challenges — are those that closely regulate the way marijuana is distributed.

According to the article, nearly 28,000 Michigan residents now are registered as patient users of medical marijuana.

Kunselman said he was particularly intrigued that some states, including California, now mandate that medical marijuana be distributed only through nonprofit dispensaries that give money back to charities. He said he's interested in exploring that option for Ann Arbor.

Postema discussed with council members Monday night whether the city should require inspections of dispensaries, but no clear direction was given. Postema said some cities have instituted inspection systems, but they may be challenged in the courts.

"But they've instituted it because they saw growing 72 plants — and the type of lighting and the type of electrical use that you need to do to have that type of business — as a danger to the community," he said. "I can't answer that for you. I think that's something for the fire department and the police department to answer for you."

Postema noted other communities have decided to implement "purity standards" so patients who legitimately need the drug for medical reasons are not "duped" into getting a poor quality product. He also said the city might be able to impose regulations requiring that marijuana be "locally grown" to prevent out-of-state drug trafficking.

"It is also significant to me that we do understand that distributors in other states are looking very closely at what the city of Ann Arbor is doing, anticipating that they are going to come into town and come into town as quickly as possible," Postema said.

The City Council approved a four-month moratorium on new dispensaries in August to give city staff time to come up with zoning regulations. The moratorium expires Dec. 3.


Medical marijuana advocate Chuck Ream expressed concerns Monday night that the city's policies might create a "hit list" of marijuana users that could be turned over to the federal government.

Ryan J. Stanton |

During the course of reporting on the city's progress on the ordinance, has received a handful of phone calls and e-mails from people interested in either opening up a dispensary in Ann Arbor or becoming a patient of one. Some said they're just waiting for the moratorium to be lifted to move in.

Council Member Sandi Smith, D-1st Ward, said Monday night the Planning Commission and planning staff have come up with a good zoning ordinance.

"I think it's well thought-out," she said.

"I want to make sure that we do this one right because it's brand new. The dynamic is not well known yet," said Council Member Tony Derezinski, D-2nd Ward. "I think we're going to have to try to be as foolproof as we can on this."

Chuck Ream, a longtime medical marijuana advocate who recently opened a dispensary on Packard Road near Iroquois Place, addressed the council Monday night. He said he worries attempts to require licenses and permits could build a database or "hit list" that the federal government might eventually use to prosecute users of marijuana in Ann Arbor.

He also said he opposed the idea of inspections.

"Very few people would participate in the medical marijuana program if they knew their homes were going to be invaded by inspectors," he said.

Postema clarified the ordinance awaiting council approval doesn't have provisions for inspections. He said it appears Ream is worried about additional regulations.

"I think what he was concerned about was a licensing of caregivers and that's certainly is part of what home occupation would be," he said. "You could have additional licensing for a caregiver that would require fire inspections or electrical inspections. But that's of the home occupation or the dispensary, so it's not based on being a caregiver. It's being a home occupation."

Council Member Stephen Rapundalo, D-2nd Ward, was absent.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 6:57 p.m.

"... Kunselman said he was particularly intrigued that some states, including California, now mandate that medical marijuana be distributed only through nonprofit dispensaries that give money back to charities. He said he's interested in exploring that option for Ann Arbor...." In the spirit of the early '70s, when $5 was fine for cannabis and when small community alternatives proliferated, consider resurrecting an old slogan: Medicine for people, not for profit. ------------ "... Chuck Ream... worries attempts to require licenses and permits could build a database... [that] the federal government might eventually use to prosecute users of marijuana in Ann Arbor.... [and] "Very few people would participate in the medical marijuana program if they knew their homes were going to be invaded by inspectors," he said... Given that federal law still considers any use illegal, these questions are not unreasonable to bring up, although Ream may be jumping ahead a little. What has been California's experience, so far, in regard to such concerns? ------------ "...There was a reason it was banned.... Weed steals motivation and productivity." Anti-pot pioneer Harry Anslinger would later go on to mentor his younger contemporary and friend, Air Force Gen. Jack D. Ripper, who eventually discovered that systemic water fluoridation produced crippling fatigue symptoms similar to the effects of cannabis use. The general's bold solution to the fluoride crisis would later be celebrated in a 1964 film by Kubrick.


Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 10:29 a.m.

Hemp and marijuana was not banned because it "steals motivation" it was banned because William Randolph Hearst owned huge tracts if timber used for paper and his newspapers spread lies and myths about marijuana and hemp. Marijuana was made illegal because J Edgar Hoover and Harry Anslinger needed it illegal to keep their government jobs. It was kept illegal because chemical, paper, pharmaceutical, farming, alcohol and tobacco industries have a vested financial interest in competing compounds and products that hemp and marijuana could easily replace. Do your homework. Stop spreading myths.


Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 9:43 a.m.

"There was a reason it was banned in the first place. Weed steals motivation and productivity, we should be giving to China for free so America can catch up in the world." And the earth is flat and the sky is falling. Let's see, Carl Sagan was a pot smoker I guess that smoking pot stole his motivation to pursue a phd and educating billions and billions of people. It's amazing that Willie Nelson has written thousands of songs and tours relentlessly probably stoned most of the time. I guess he's not motivated. Dustin Moskovits, a founder of Facebook was probably stoned as he worked his butt off making his first million. Add to this list Louis Armstrong, Shakespeare. Sir Richard Branson, Michael Phelps, Ted Turner, Stephen King etc... It's so sad that some people still suffer from the myths of Reefer Madness and the absolute stupidity of marijuana prohibition. This quote above is nothing but Reefer Madness and I doubt that the writer of the above quote ever smoked pot.


Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 6:23 a.m.

Well, here we go folks. Watch this one closely, it will be a microcosm of how liberals build inefficienct economies. Somewhere Rube Goldberg is smiling as he gazes at the square wheel. Pot should be dispensed thru the pharmacy network that is alreay set up with regulation and oversight inspection.


Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 9:38 p.m.

There was a reason it was banned in the first place. Weed steals motivation and productivity, we should be giving to China for free so America can catch up in the world.

Chase Ingersoll

Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 4:50 p.m.

There is already a tax on any equipment or energy used to produce. Shouldn't that be enough for the government? Does anyone really think it is going to be cost effective to set up and enforce another regulatory and tax collection and scheme? So the same people that failed at implementing prohibition, are now expected to succeed at regulation. As much as I might personally dislike the smell of cannabis, I'm better that the tokers will win again as there is apparently more of them and they are more committed.


Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 12:23 p.m.

Another interesting article... Legal History of Cannabis in the United States


Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 12:17 p.m.

The bureaucratic authorities may do only what the law allows. The people may do whatever the law does not prohibit. It seems like our local authorities are trying to find ways to prohibit for everyone else what they find personally distasteful. Another dose of Reefer Madness anyone?


Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 11:54 a.m.

Government should not only stay out of my bedroom, they should stay out of my grow room too! I know that they're politicians and bureaucrats, but there must be a pill (it certainly isn't a joint or a brownie) or something that they take when they go to work for the government that makes them think that they have the right to spy on us and pass unnecessary laws and invade our private lives!


Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 11:48 a.m.

Local growers are up to par with those in California. Trimming machines, drying trays, chemicals to help the plants get bushier! As to the issue of legalization - well, let's just say that it's a BILLION dollar business in California alone, which, if taxed, would pull that state out of it's major financial ruin! The ONLY reason that Marijuana is illegal is due to ONE person who had a bug up his ass... Harry J. Anslinger.


Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 11:40 a.m.

Wow, Talk about opening up can of worms based on speculation and false hypotheses! If The city council and Postema think that the Michigan law is not written well or vague, it will only get worse if they try to "regulate" medical marijuana with all these extra zoning rules and determining "locally grown" and "purity standards" and stack all kinds of licensing and inspections to the local regulations they seem hell bent to write and enforce. Talk about expanding the bureaucracy for the sake of the bureaucracy! Stephen "the sky is falling" Postema talks like this is another burning porch couch issue to be nipped in the bud by Barney Fife. Unsafe electrical! I bet that an inspector could find more than a couple of violations in Postema's or any council person's own home! So let's start the inspections there! Growing marijuana for a patient caregiver relationship is not a home business! Do other home businesses currently have to have an electrical inspections? "Licensing scheme" is right. It's a scheme for government to snoop into people's personal lives and their homes! It's a scheme to suppress the state law and supplant it with new regulations to add the city coffers at the expense of medical patients. Tony Derezinski quotes are utter bureau-speak from a politician without any clue whatsoever. Maybe he should smoke a little pot, it might straighten out his thinking. Since when has council got anything right in the last 10 years? Kunselman might be on to something with the non profit thing, but think about the bureaucratic nightmare for a dispensary or even a one on one patient/caregiver relationship to become a non profit? Talk about making things mere complicated for patients caregivers and anyone else involved? There's a lot of angling by the politicians and the city administration about regulation. Some if that is plain Reefer Madness, but I bet that there's quite a bit of thought about the city making a buck off of all the regulations, licensing and inspections that they would like to implement. Leave the State law alone! Patients and caregivers will find their way. Ban dispensaries if you think it will help you sleep better, but it will not stop medical marijuana and the inevitable legalization of marijuana and industrial hemp. I hope that most of our council members and Postema himself has smoked pot at one time or another. They all know that it is harmless and will eventually be legalized, but for now they have to play their part and let their constituents know that they are not "soft on crime" and look like they are trying to do something even if it is misguided and could be discriminatory against people with serious medical conditions. They are constrained by political reality that a lot of people still suffer from Reefer Madness. It should be their jobs to dispel those tired myths instead of looking for ways to make matters worse. Look, voters will vote for you anyway even if you have to suffer from a public reefer madness, just do what's right and leave the State law alone!


Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 11:26 a.m.

If they are "wading through the haze" they may actually be doing serious research. I wonder if it is in a bong? That cold explain the strange and nonsensical actions of the city council though.


Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 9:16 a.m.

Corporate farms mean all incorporations from small S class to large holding companies. People can choose where to spend their money. e.g. goto walmart or goto the corner store. This is America, you can do what you want.

Atticus F.

Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 9:05 a.m.

xmo, it's not just an issue of THC. The cannabinoids also impact the different medical effects, and there are 1000s of different cannabinoids. It's very hard to regulate that type of thing. And most patients need to search to find the strain that helps with their condition. It's not as simple as a one size fits all regulation. Like with aspirin, people dont know exactly how it works, only that it does work.


Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 8:57 a.m.

This is a drug, why not sell this at CVS,Rite-aide, Walgreens where all of the others drugs are sold? What makes Marijuana SO SPECIAL!


Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 8:53 a.m.

"Maybe we just legalize pot for all uses and let legal corporate farms raise the stuff so that we are not funding the drug wars in Mexico etc" this makes no sense to me at all. I'm all for legalization but it's a plant. Why would you want to hand production And profits over to big corporations instead of small local business owners? Why would you give big drug companies another monoply? Like I said, it's just a plant most anyone can grow if they need or want to. The local dispensaries have no reason to sell Mexican grown marijuana. The law provides for caregivers or the option for patients to grow their own. Why not support the local economy and let local growers do their thing without crippling them with over-regulation? Marijuana prohabition has profited organized crime in the same way alcohol prohabition did in the past.

Atticus F.

Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 8:34 a.m.

I like the idea of making sure the cannabis is locally grown. I've seen some of the comercial grows in California, and I can tell you that they feed the plants something that resembles purple koolaid. They also spray with fungicides and insecticides. I've also noticed that most dispensaries are selling alot of California 'factory' cannabis. You can tell by the way it's trimmed. The comercial growers use trimmer machines.


Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 8:05 a.m.

Just make it 100% legal and be done with it.

Mark A.

Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 7:29 a.m.

Debb, marijuana is not a pharmaceutical drug and can't be prescribed by doctors at this time. I personally think it's a bad idea, while marijuana is a controlled substance, to announce to the public where it can be found. A publicly known dispensary it's customers or members will be a target to crime and federal raids. I therefore am for any regulations that focus on security and safety.

Deb Burch

Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 5:24 a.m.

I may have missed it, but I have not seen any details about the options for patients to receive the medical benefits from marijuana. Is it possible for them to get the same relief from a capsule or a spray? If there is a way to formulate the plant and be able to distribute as a prescription or an over the counter medication,that would make this better for the patients.


Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 5:21 a.m.

I have no problem with medical marijuana... a law has been passed to legalize its use. What I do have a problem with is that drug dealers are using the medical marijuana loophole to sell pot to people who were not prescribed the use of pot by a doctor. I do not know what the solution is, but the abuse I have seen is troubling. Maybe we just legalize pot for all uses and let legal corporate farms raise the stuff so that we are not funding the drug wars in Mexico etc.