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Posted on Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 12:13 p.m.

Drug felons will be prohibited from operating marijuana dispensaries, Ann Arbor officials decide

By Ryan J. Stanton

In a series of deliberations that lasted more than two hours, the Ann Arbor City Council made several revisions to a proposed medical marijuana licensing ordinance Monday night, but once again postponed voting to move the ordinance past first reading.

"I think we're taking a great deal of care to get this right," Mayor John Hieftje said in favor of delaying the vote another two weeks.

Council members amended the ordinance to clarify the rules surrounding felons who want to operate dispensaries in Ann Arbor — drawing upon state law, which prohibits drug felons from being caregivers. And so the city's stance is that drug felons cannot be dispensary owners, but other types of felons may be considered for licenses at the city's discretion.


City Attorney Stephen Postema addresses the City Council during Monday's meeting.

Ryan J. Stanton |

That could be bad news for medical marijuana entrepreneurs like T.J. Rice, who owns a dispensary in downtown Ann Arbor. Rice, who says he's been haunted by a past marijuana conviction for 14 years, has been trying to get the city to allow him to operate his business. (Felony drug charges have been filed against Rice. See the story.)

City Attorney Stephen Postema explained the city's rationale behind deciding to fully prohibit drug felons from operating dispensaries in Ann Arbor. Though the state law on medical marijuana says nothing about dispensaries, he said it clearly prohibits drug felons from being caregivers and so the city is extending that prohibition to dispensary owners.

"Certainly, felonies for drug convictions is covered under the statute, so they really can't be caregivers and that's determined by state law," he said.

The council also took action Monday night to redefine the terms "dispensary" and "cultivation facility," an issue that remains the subject of a pending lawsuit against the city.

"Medical marijuana dispensary means one or more caregivers operating at a fixed location in compliance with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, for the purpose of transferring medical marijuana at that location to one or more persons whose medical use of marijuana is protected under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act," the definition now reads.

The definition of a cultivation facility was changed to "a structure or each space in a structure that is separately owned or leased by a person other than the owner of the structure, in which marijuana plants are being cultivated in compliance with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act."

The council also clarified who sits on the city's dispensary licensing board, adding three at-large positions to be filled by residents. Two positions previously slotted for a caregiver and a patient were eliminated because the council decided — for the sake of privacy — not to force any prospective board members to have to identify themselves as such.

Council members debated whether to channel a portion of the revenue from dispensary license fees to local substance abuse programs. Some council members were in favor of it, citing potential unintended consequences of marijuana being available in larger quantities in the city. But the council ultimately voted against the proposal.

The council also made a number of decisions about licensing procedures and added to the rules about what information must go on a medical marijuana package.

Thumbnail image for sabrabriere.jpg

Sabra Briere

"If one were to get a package of medical marijuana, that package would contain the name and amount and source of the medical marijuana, so that's really important," said Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, who brought forward many of the changes Monday night. "That's an important thing. If you do get ill, you need to know who to call. This tells you who."

The council was unable to come to agreement on what records — such as a list of suppliers and patients — must be kept on file at dispensaries, and whether those records should be made available to the city for review upon request. Hieftje and other council members said they wanted those records available to the city in case a patient became ill from a tainted marijuana product and the city wanted to trace the source, or notify other patients.

"I understand every dispensary keeps lists of suppliers, they keep lists of patients, they have that information for their own needs," Briere said, offering her own take on the dilemma. "The question is how available is that to the city, how available is that to a public health department, and in what condition is that information kept?"

Medical marijuana advocate Chuck Ream, who owns a dispensary in Ann Arbor, said there's an easy resolution to the debate.

"If there is any sort of public health reason, then yes, the dispensaries can turn over the names of the sources of the material to the city," he said. "But there should be no reason to turn it over unless there's a problem."

Ream offered mostly praise for the council.

"In general, I think they're trying to do a really sincere job and they're moving in the direction of protecting patients and caregivers, but this one problem is still a problem," he said.

Postema acknowledged after Monday's five-hour meeting that his office has some more homework to do before the ordinance comes back to council.

"There's a couple of issues we'll look at as to the record-keeping requirement, so we're looking at that again," he said. "The part that remained was that caregivers who provide to a dispensary, those names would be kept. And then the other question they had was further information about what's distributed to the patients."

The council also postponed voting Monday night on a supplemental resolution introduced by Briere to adopt a city policy of non-disclosure of certain medical marijuana information. The resolution outlines a list of specific personal information that — if provided to the city as part of the zoning or licensing process — would be protected against public disclosure.

After months of debate, Briere said she's happy to say the council is getting closer to passing the regulations. In fact, it almost looked like it was going to happen Monday night.

"I think that everybody on council has moved a lot closer together to where we think this is going," Briere said after the meeting. "I'm sorry that it took us two hours of really close discussion to get this far. I wish that we did this in a back room somewhere and we didn't bore our audience so much, but it's so important that we do it in public."

Briere said she hopes the council is done with tweaking the ordinance at its next meeting in two weeks. After that, the ordinance would go on to second reading and final approval.

"I'd love to see that we're done at the next meeting," Briere said. "I thought we were almost there tonight, but we still have little gaps in our knowledge of what we're going to do, so the procedures are still a little vague and we need those hammered together before we go to second reading. We need to be able to be confident that we know what we're expecting people to do in order to give them a license, and know confidently what we're expecting staff to do."

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



Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 12:56 a.m.

If there is a possibility of names being turned over a governmental agency, vendors to dispensaries should be made to sign a disclosure agreement. If the vendor is a caregiver, their patient should also have to sign an agreement. The patient statement should note that they are aware the the caregiver is selling material that is being grown in there name, and second that they are aware that their information was shared at the same time the caregivers information was shared, and that the possibility of further sharing may be possible. Otherwise, the patient's information is being shared without their consent. This is a privacy violation.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 12:44 a.m.

I think all felons should be prohibited from operating dispensaries, not just drug felons. Under A2 rules, one or more patient operation in a fixed location IS NOT A DISPENSARY! The MMMA allows for patients' transfers (not restricted to location). Since a caregiver can only transfer to those person they are connected, per Section 4 of the MMMA, those transfers made by a caregiver at a dispensary are illegal because they are not in compliance with the act. A2 will make all these people felons. Since the city is doing this, all medical marijuana sold should present the business name and the name, home address, home phone. This is what is required under the States' Cottage Food Act.

Jim Clarkson

Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 10:39 p.m.

#1 Just make it legal already for goodness sake. #2 You want to be able to trace tainted products, like what, too many seeds. Seriously,really?


Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 8:04 p.m.

Proposal: Place all dispensaries in Greenbelt property areas only: that way at least someone is using the areas that we have pumped millions into; they can wander around the Greenbelt all they want and stay out of downtown all together: and we can let those farmers out there in the Greenbelt govern it however they want, thus freeing up City Council to do things like figure out how to keep the Stadium Bridges from falling down. All passive aggressive joking aside, why is there ANY time wasted on deciding if FELONS can run drug dispensaries. Who is in charge here????


Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 8:20 p.m.

Where have you been Halter - YOU ARE BRILLIANT!!!!!


Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 7:37 p.m.

The City's making a huge mistake thinking that they will be able to investigate anyone found delivering "tainted marijuana" that results in what? Death? Hospitalization? A sore throat? Quick weight gain? How will it be determined that "tainted marijuana" is the culprit under specific circumstances? Is the AAPD equipped to do this kind of potentially costly investigation and prosecution? Is the County Medical Examiner on board with this? Legalize the entire plant for personal growth and use. Then everyone is on their own. Needy patients will find caregivers just like they are doing today.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 7:10 p.m.

"drug felons cannot be dispensary owners" Isn't that a little banning a NASCAR racer from driving a taxi cab?

Snarf Oscar Boondoggle

Mon, Mar 14, 2011 : 5:23 a.m.

a betteerr comparison might be forbidding a taxi driver with -teickets- from driving in nascar ???

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 8:02 p.m.

I'd buy weak but not terrible.


Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 7:38 p.m.

That's a terrible allegory.


Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 6:47 p.m.

THC is a single cannabinoid contained in medical marijuana. THC does not equal medical marijuana and cannot be a substitute for it. Marinol is a pharmaceutical industry concoction that makes many patients feel ill and includes only THC. Prohibitionists and law enforcement officials will tell you that marijuana in its natural form is dangerous, especially today's marijuana because it includes higher levels of THC and less of other cannabinoids that reduce the euphoric high. Their alternative is the legal pill Marinol that is made of 100% THC. Seems just a tad bit disingenuous to say today's marijuana, which tops out at around 20% THC, is more dangerous and then offer 100% THC as an alternative. So are they recommending a safer, legal alternative to medical marijuana or stumping for the pharmaceutical industry? Follow the money.

Snarf Oscar Boondoggle

Mon, Mar 14, 2011 : 5:22 a.m.

i ';d sure like a cite for the potency %x stats above ... 20 % ... 100 % ... ????


Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 7:41 p.m.

Naturally occurring Cannabinoids are just beginning to be studied. There is a lot of potential for medical discovery from this simple plant.


Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 6:32 p.m.

I don't agree with the stipulation that ALL drug felons can't run dispensaries, but I'm very grateful that the council took the time to listen and have come to a decision that does not attempt to thwart the law we voted for. The mmj law doesn't allow drug felons to be caregivers so not allowing them to run dispensary is in line with the spirit of the law. The council is proving that they are willing to listen and research mmj thoroughly before they pass an ordinance that affects the well being of many sick patients... if only other cities would follow suit and stop trying to overrule the voting public. I'm so glad that my community is a shining example of how to do this right.

Edward Vielmetti

Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 6:32 p.m.

@grye, here's more information about Dronabinol (trade name Marinol), from PubMed Health: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Depending on the formulation, it's either a Schedule I or a Schedule III controlled substance, according to the &quot;FDA Law Blog&quot;, published by attorneys Hyman, Phelps &amp; McNamara, PC; <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> which puts it in the company of drugs for which there are substantial regulatory hurdles in actually getting a prescription filled.


Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 6:23 p.m.

Why is it that patients who think they need marijuana have not tried the legal drug marinol to relieve their symptoms? Smoking marijuana can create other health issues from by products where as the legal synthetic drug only has the specific ingredient needed. I contend those that use marijuana for the recreational high (since there is no other reason to use marijuana) have convinced the general public that only smoking marijuana can relieve the issues for cancer patients. I think the legal drug should be utilized first.


Tue, Mar 8, 2011 : 6:36 p.m.

THC is one cannabinoid. The medical effect patients seek is the result of a complex relationship between several cannabinoids. THC is not the most important of this group... CBD is. Marinol does not include CBD. Simple as that. Additionally, have you paid the full cost of a prescription drug recently? I can buy enough cannabis to last me 3 months with the money my great aunt used to spend on medication for a week.