Medical marijuana organization sets up shop in downtown Ann Arbor
A medical marijuana clinic set up shop in downtown Ann Arbor, and a leader of the non-profit group running it says they're being careful to follow state guidelines and keep a good reputation in the fledgling Michigan industry.
But an Ann Arbor official says the city will soon examine the legality of any dispensaries, as well as the broader issue of zoning for medical marijuana dispensing and use within city limits.
Liberty Clinic has been located in an upstairs office on Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor for about four months, according to the leader of the non-profit organization, Jim "Chainsaw," who said he would not give his full name because there are still gray areas in state law regarding medical marijuana.
Just one of those oft-referenced gray areas is the legality of creating clinics or clubs to distribute or use medical marijuana. The issue is never explicitly addressed and has led to contention over the interpretation of the law.
The clinic is an example of part of a growing number of operations popping up - and, some have said, pushing the limits - to distribute medical marijuana since Michigan became one of 14 state to allow limited use of the drug for medicinal purposes.
"When it comes to dispensaries, that is a law enforcement issue," said James McCurtis, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health, which is in charge of administering the program. "There's nothing in the law that addresses them."
Several communities around the state have responded with regulations and zoning ordinances that control where medical marijuana can be dispensed and grown or, as Birmingham did, ban it outright. Ypsilanti Township is considering its own zoning ordinance.
The Liberty Clinic is being run as a non-profit caregiver collective network, which enrolls both registered patients and caregivers as members, Jim said. Per the state law that requires a patient-caregiver relationship, registered caregivers are only allowed to have five patients each and are required to keep 12 plants or fewer per patient.
However, the organization and others that have begun looking to locate in Ann Arbor face a possible legal challenge within the city.
While City Attorney Stephen Postema says no rule of thumb exists anywhere in the state, he thinks the law regarding dispensaries or co-ops is clear.
"The law doesn't contemplate there would be a group of plants that could just go to anyone," Postema said. Instead, the law allows a caregiver to cultivate a designated set of plants for a designated patient, he said.
"City Council will be looking at this, and there will be several issues that will need to be addressed," he said.
The MDCH has had no shortage of interest in the program, despite clear legal issues that have yet to be resolved.
As of June 4, the department had received nearly 34,000 original and renewal applications for medical marijuana cards. Of those applications, about 18,000 patient registrations were issued, and 7,800 caregiver registrations were issued.
Liberty Clinic has 1,200 members with more than 100 caregivers within the clinic, Jim said. The idea was to link patients with caregivers in a situation where they can drop in any time and where patients can learn to cultivate their own plants, Jim said. The clinic has taken steps to remain legal and welcome in the community, he said.
According to materials distributed by the clinic, all members to have a valid Michigan marijuana program card, a photo ID and a signed code of conduct sheet.
Every member is required to sign a code of conduct agreement saying they won't loiter, engage in disruptive behavior and won't "consume medicine" in or near the premises of the clinic. They must also promise to "not sell or redistribute medicine to others" and will keep a currently valid recommendation for medical marijuana.
Registered patients must have a doctor's recommendation saying they would benefit medically from the use of marijuana and need to have a state-issued medical marijuana ID card.
At the Ann Arbor clinic, it costs $12 for a yearly membership or $100 for a VIP membership, which allows a member access to clone plans and genetics, a free T-shirt and discount on purchases of one ounce or more of the weekly special. It also includes weekly e-mails informing members of the strains available in stock.
The clinic says it also provides education and training and procedures to grow and care for plants. Its materials say it also has trusted contractors who can help set up a grow room.
Like many who have begun taking advantage of Michigan's medical marijuana law, Jim said it's important to take extra caution to be discreet about using or dispensing medical marijuana for security and reputation purposes.
He said he moved to Ann Arbor because of Michigan's medical marijuana law. But he has been frustrated with rules that have made it difficult for registered users and caregivers to create a legitimate marketplace to help patients manage pain and discomfort with marijuana.
When Michigan passed its law allowing limited usage of marijuana for medicinal purposes, "I saw Michigan was going to allow it and allow people to help others with this, I said I was going there and taking a different avenue," Jim said.
"You have to choose if you're in it for the money, for legalization or to help the patients. I'm in this to help the patients," he said.