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Posted on Sun, Jul 4, 2010 : 6:02 a.m.

Washtenaw County municipalities begin exploring medical marijuana regulations

By Tom Perkins

3rd Coast Compassion Center_1.jpg

From left to right, Anthony Shine, Darrell Stavros, John McLeod and Jamie Lowell are all involved in 3rd Coast Compassion Center's various functions.

Tom Perkins | For

Ypsilanti’s 3rd Coast Compassion Center hummed with activity on a recent Tuesday, a stark difference from its quiet beginnings when it opened in a former funeral parlor in December.

In that way, 3rd Coast - the state's first medical marijuana dispensary - is representative of the industry as a whole in Michigan. Medical marijuana is enjoying rapid growth, arguably more so than any other industry in the state.

But two years after voters approved the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, parties on all sides of the issue are forced to make their own interpretations because of what many say is a vaguely written law. The result has been differing views on the law's intent and the details shaping the industry.

Some municipalities would prefer the burgeoning industry avoid their communities altogether and have taken measures to zone out or heavily regulate activity.

Most municipalities are taking one of three different approaches: embrace the legislation, ban medical marijuana possession and use outright, or find a middle ground through zoning ordinances.

“It’s complex,” Matt Abel, a Detroit-based attorney nicknamed "The Cannabis Counselor" said of the state law, adding “it was unfortunately written to pass the vote at election time not written to be clear and workable.”

The law is problematic in part because marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, though the Obama administration announced in October federal authorities would not arrest anyone complying with state medical marijuana laws.

Despite that, Saline recently opted to prohibit medical marijuana all together, citing its status under federal law. Saline Mayor Gretchen Driskell said she voted for medical marijuana’s legalization, but feels the law is too vague.

The Saline City Council passed a zoning ordinance in June prohibiting the sale or possession of medical marijuana, or anything else that's illegal under federal, state or local law.

“Because the regulations around medical marijuana and dispensing are not very clear, there’s a lot of room for interpretation,” she said. “It makes it a little difficult for a local government to get involved at this point.”

Jamie Lowell, a partner at 3rd Coast, argued Saline doesn't have the authority to impose such restrictions.

“Local municipalities have no ability to enforce federal laws,” he said. “The feds are not interested in enforcing federal law over small amounts of cannabis being used legally under state law.”

3rd Coast Compassion Center_2.jpg

"Super Lemon Haze" medical marijuana available at the 3rd Coast Compassion Center, 19 N. Hamilton St. in Ypsilanti.

Tom Perkins | For

The law is more specific in certain areas. A patient must obtain written documentation from a licensed physician stating he or she has a debilitating illness and could benefit from the use of medical marijuana. The patient then takes the documentation to the Michigan Department of Community Health, which issues a patient's card, if approved.

Patients designate a primary caregiver from whom they obtain medical marijuana. A caregiver’s card is also issued by the state Department of Community Health.

A caregiver can grow up to 12 plants - or 2.5 ounces - for up to “five qualifying patients,” and an additional 12 if he or she is a patient.

But Abel and others contend the law does not say a patient can't obtain marijuana from other patients, or that a caregiver can't sell to qualified patients outside of the five with whom they are registered.

“Anything that’s illegal is specified, but it doesn't say you can’t sell to someone else,” Abel said.

The law states “qualifying patients” shall not be punished for the “medical use” of marijuana. The law’s definition of medical use includes the words “acquisition, transport, delivery and transfer” of the medicine.

Ann Arbor officials have yet to determine how they will approach the question of regulating dispensaries. Already, several have set up shop in the city.

City Attorney Stephen Postema told in early June that the law clearly states caregivers can only grow plants for their designated patients and that “the law doesn't contemplate that there would be a group of plants that could just go to anyone."

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said the city is gathering more information before forming an opinion one way or another.

“I remain very supportive of the concept and we’re trying to sort through the legalities,” he said.

In Milan, the City Council discussed placing a moratorium on allowing medical marijuana dispensaries during a work session Monday. The measure was tabled.

Grand Rapids has taken a position that the law is silent on dispensaries, therefore dispensaries aren't allowed.

Lowell said restrictions on patients obtaining medical marijuana run contrary to “the spirit and intent of the law,” which he says is to provide people who use medical marijuana as a legitimate form of health care with uninterrupted access to it.

3rd Coast and other dispensaries operate by allowing member caregivers and patients to bring their excess cannabis to the club, which is then made available to other patients. No marijuana is grown on the premises, and Lowell said all transactions are small and well within the parameters of the law.

Importantly, the law states the actual cannabis cannot be sold, but a patient or caregiver can be compensated for services.

Lowell and partner Darrell Stavros regularly meet with municipalities statewide that are in the process of developing zoning ordinances. He said a conservative estimate puts the number of dispensaries in Michigan at 15, with that figure rapidly growing. Abel estimated as many as 50 will operate by the year's end.

Abel said there needs to be a provision in the law addressing dispensaries.

“There’s a need for dispensaries, and they’re going to be there one way or another, so the state might as well get on board,” he said.

In the case of nurseries, caregivers' 72 plants must be in a secure, locked room, but the definition of “secure and locked” remains unclear. Abel has already taken on a court case in which prosecutors challenged what a grower considered secure. That case was thrown out.

In addition, municipalities have to decide what happens if, for example, 20 caregivers want to form a large nursery and grow their plants - 1,440 maximum - under one roof, but in separate “locked and secure” rooms.

“In our system, all the gray areas end up in court, so you’re going to have a court giving an opinion on these questions,” said Dennis Hayes, an Ann Arbor-based attorney long involved with the medical marijuana industry.

Ypsilanti Township has sought to limit the size of nurseries by allowing only 72 plants - or one caregiver - per nursery. The ordinance also requires nurseries to remain 1,000 feet from one another in light industrial zones and 1,000 feet from a residential zone, precluding caregivers from growing in their homes.

Consumption is also prohibited in the township's nurseries and dispensaries.

At 3rd Coast in the city, one of its functions is to provide a place for patients to medicate when their living situation makes doing so uncomfortable, Lowell said.

The Ypsilanti City Council may discuss a medical marijuana zoning ordinance by September. Council Member Brian Robb has been gathering information on the issues, and he and city planner Teresa Gillotti have been in communication with 3rd Coast.

Robb said grow operations should be open to inspection to address any safety concerns, but he sees no problem with allowing a nursery or dispensary to be treated like a retail operation. He also said 3rd Coast should be allowed to operate in the central business district.

“I think this is pretty simple and straightforward, but my biggest concern is the inspection of the grow operation,” he said.

Officials in Dexter and Chelsea both said they have yet to deeply explore how to proceed, though both are aware of the issues. Dexter Council Member Jim Carson said a zoning ordinance is on that village planning commission’s July 6 agenda.

The state has nearly 20,000 registered patients and 8,500 caregivers, according to the Department of Community Health. Lowell said the need for easy, alternative access to cannabis will continue to grow as more patients register, and he believes education on the subject will help eliminate "irrational fears" about dispensaries.

Lowell also highlighted the positive economic impact 3rd Coast has had in Ypsilanti by bringing in residents of other communities who use the city's other businesses. He also pointed out the dispensary now occupies a previously abandoned building.

"This should be an inspiration and it should tell people, 'Hey, You can do this,' so patients can always have safe access to their medicine," he said. "The economic development part comes incidentally, but this is a win-win industry."

Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for Reach the news desk at or 734-623-2530.



Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 11:16 p.m.

1 thing i never see ne1 mention in a pot debate is,...the human race has been forester gatherers since the dawn of man. ppl like to get high, its cheap and ez, amusement park in a bag. this is america, the land of the free. every war fought by the usa,...government officials like the president use the word of freedom to insight support for a war. american ppl eat that stuff up and jump onboard. then we it in come to the freedom to choose wat we put into our own bodies,...those same officials then think they have the right to stomp all over our freedom to choose. not ur body, not ur bzness. nvm beer and tobacco arguements. if i want eat a small bud and be high fr 30 mins after a hard days work or to unwind for watever reason,...its my body, my freedom, = my choice. the war on drugs is nothing more than a finacial based war on our consumer freedoms. officials and holier than tho types, high on a moral high horse, trying to dictate our lives and choices. officials do it to curb our xtra money to go to thier constituents in the appropriate corps. then, private citizens who just dont like the cool kids who are smoking and party'n without them, they are jealous or bored and clinicly addicted to argue'n. governments and the ppl need to get thier hands off my body. mainly bcz we wont do wat you say neway. and we will be villified, and ostresized, which will make innocent fun loving peacefull ppl into, sad, scared, anti-social, hermits.


Sat, Aug 21, 2010 : 10:23 a.m.

Cannabis is an herbal medicine. It is medicine because it can treat illnesses. It has been used for many hundreds of years, perhaps thousands, that way. We been subjected to the false idea that it has never had medicinal uses. Like some other medicines, it can be addictive, so it should be used under a doctor's care. The dangers come from addiction rather than overdose. Alcohol is far more toxic. It can kill and maim with a much smaller multiple of the normal dose than marijuana. Alcohol and other drugs are also addictive. As a good American, I suppose I ought to grant people the right to kill themselves by chemical ingestion if they so wish; however I don't think it is right to encourage them to do it. To the suicidal, one would have to recommend alcohol and tobacco. Very few people have died from overdoses of marijuana. I am not a user of marijuana and have little interest in it, but I may suffer from painful cancer or glaucoma someday, and I think we all ought to be realistic and tolerant about it. It is cheaper than many of the drugs that our drug companies are pushing on us.


Wed, Jul 7, 2010 : 1:33 p.m.

"Have another beer as it can be good for you and won't kill you. Ooo my bad that's cannabis not alcohol" Again this is the other failed part of Cannibis backers; get over comparing it to alcohol. Studies are coming through now that are showing moderate beer comsumption is good for you like a glass of wine is. It seems many times you can't get 2 thoughts deep without it being compared to alcohol and how it's so much better for you, get over it.


Wed, Jul 7, 2010 : 1:09 p.m.

I'm all for Medical Reefer, I just can't stand some of the "knowledge" behind it; "Its natural. Been around for 10k+ years." Plenty of things that are "natural" are not good for you, and lethal. Obviously, Pot is not one of them, but the old blanket "it's natural" war cry bothers me. "A joint is a beer or a drink." - Absolutly agree until driving is entered in the equation.


Tue, Jul 6, 2010 : 9:39 a.m.

I think the picture of "Super Lemon Haze" tells us all we need to know about how "medicinal" and therapeutic all of this really is. Who ever heard of medicine with such a trippy, psychedelic label? This is all quackery in its highest form, and it's no surprise any legitimate doctor or pharmacy won't go within a mile of it. Come to think of it, why does everything have to be "air-quoted" when it comes to this ruse. I guess I need to see my "provider" about my "condition" to see if my qualify for some "medicine" to find out.


Tue, Jul 6, 2010 : 7:08 a.m.

Alfonso's comments are prejudice and abusive towards a particular group of people, participating in a normal, decent act. It is akin to making gross generalizations about minorities or gays or any other group that continues to be villified by, likewise, ignorant voices. I wonder if the moderators would allow Alfonso to state that all black people are lazy or other insensitive stereotypes and lies about communities of people other than medical cannabis users. Typically, these forums have a policy to remove and/or discourage offensive remarks. Perhaps it is not the policy of to monitor or take action against such activity. The article itself is very well done and informative.


Mon, Jul 5, 2010 : 9:38 a.m.

If anyone has watch any of the history of marijuana on ether the history channel or PBS. They all say one think is true, Marijuana was made illegal in the south based on racism. People that were smoking it were Mexicans and blacks. So to try to keep them away they made pot illegal. That started working so they started a smear Campaign that has lived on since then. Even though evidence shows that pot can slow down lung cancer growth, is safer then the other toxic, poisonous drugs that are given to chemo therapy patients whose livers are already compromised from the treatment. It seems like the older people get the more ignorant they become. We all knew the facts when we were growing up, why is it we forget them when we get into office?

mike from saline

Mon, Jul 5, 2010 : 9 a.m.

smoking pot makes sick people feel better. It also makes people who are not sick, feel better! What's not to like?


Mon, Jul 5, 2010 : 12:47 a.m.

To Alfonso (and anyone else who disagrees with medical marijuana), 63% remember that number, as that is the Statewide percentage who voted for medicinal marijuana. As for the unemployable, and uneducatable -- sorry to burst your bubble, professional, have a MBA, so how do you like me now? The fact is its as helpful, probably more so, than most of the other medications out there. Its natural. Been around for 10k+ years. NEVER had a documented death from it (actually it is impossible to OD on from the established literature). Finally, live and let live. Do I go commenting on your medications? Want me rambling around your medicine cabinet? California voters in November are voting on complete legalization. It will pass. They passed the first medical marijuana law 16+ years ago. Its time to stop wasting OUR tax dollars on law enforcement, and prison dollars arresting, locking up marijuana users. $42k a year to incarcerate them (and talk about education, if they did not know how to steal before they get locked up, they do when they leave incarceration). And (this is a big one) with a records, now the employment picture gets really tough -- not that Michigan has any jobs at the moment (or for the next decade or so). In closing, if you feel safer at night because the cops are busting pot heads, I don't! I would prefer the Law Enforcement Officers work to arrest murders, thieves, rapists and child molesters first and put them in the $42k/yr. cells? If their is ONE unsolved crime like that I do NOT want them busting one pot smoker. A joint is a beer or a drink. The time of marijuana prohibition is over. Get used to it, its our law now! M NORML Rep.


Sun, Jul 4, 2010 : 11:56 p.m.

I see no reason to keep pot illegal. Legalize it, regulate it, tax it. Period. This state would be in the black within 5 years if we'd go that route.

ronn oneal

Sun, Jul 4, 2010 : 8:15 p.m.

@native and proud That sounds like you got a real knowledge of what the people will be demanding. I'm waiting for my card to arrive and hopefully it wont any trouble finding High Grade seed and Strains and I'm sure I'll be one that needs a caregiver due to being a felon.


Sun, Jul 4, 2010 : 7:05 p.m.

This is in response to the first poster "Me Next" Actually what you want are female plants for your medical marijuana. That means out of the whole harvest, you may be lucky to get one seed. Feminized plants are your bud producing plants and if you do find male plants in your lot, either just kill it or move it completely out of the room with the females because it will produce more male plants and you don't want that. Also it is unclear about obtaining quality seeds. A few really good places are in Amsterdam and for the really good strains, you will pay at least a hundred dollars for 10 seeds. But if you know how to grow they are very reliable. My supply consists of a strain called White Widow and the Afghan strain. I wouldn't have a problem with a licensed inspector checking out my system. Since they Metal Halide lights use a lot of electricity and when you start adding more, next thing you know you are running a lot of juice through your romex. This is what people need to be concerned about. If where they are going to grow and use the lights, is the electrical up to code and able to handle to wattage amount.


Sun, Jul 4, 2010 : 6:33 p.m.

When medical marijuana was being proposed the best reason to not sign the petition thrust in your face at Ann Arbor's Farmers Market was the freak with the clipboard. The vanishingly small percentage of patients who need marijuana to relieve intractable pain is simply insufficient justification for legalizing a drug which renders a user unemployable, uneducable and undesirable.


Sun, Jul 4, 2010 : 12:42 p.m.

Lets hope that local governments remember the people voted this in and the peoples voice should be listened to and not ignored or marginalized. Medical Marijuana can be a positive thing for the state and even the country as long as folks take a moderate and civil approach.


Sun, Jul 4, 2010 : 12:16 p.m.

Could our local regulators not, for once, have a policy which reads: "Be appropriate."? Just let things evolve; if problems arise, address them. Not unlike the internet. Ann Arbor has a chance at becoming a state leader in this area; let us make the most of it. Just step back, monitor, evaluate. Let it happen.

Me Next

Sun, Jul 4, 2010 : 10:34 a.m.

It's not medicine, it's a natural seed baring herb. It has properties that relieve many physical ailments. Did Federal have the Duty to Outlaw it in the first place? I contend - no. It is when other chemicals are used & machinery is involved that calls for regulation. America was not formed for a Ruling Class to impose their will on subjects of the Ruling Class. Elections mean nothing when the elected continue The Ruling Class. All American Governing bodies granted Commerce Taxing Power to pay for the "common" needs of Protection & Book Keeping (papers & effects of Free People). The Representative Governing are to Solicit needed or desired Services & products to come into That Free Market. Within Jurisdictions, structures of Public Use are Inspected for "common protection". I only read more "Ruler rule" for a new product into a Government Market. No "win-win industry", just same ol same ol Destroying America. Localities can inspect, by consent to be registered in Local Market, any service or product involving citizens' safety. States can inspect, by consent to register in intercounty or interstate or international, State Market for Safety. Federal can regulate the amount leaving a State as duty to maintain a Just & Balanced Free Market among American States. This is just continuing the destruction of Original Intent of Free People & Private Property Ownership. The "Law" doesn't present "Taxing Commerce" but usurping Medical Decisions & not for "common" but for The Ruling Party's selected consumers. Self Decreed Power that has no Power in Free Lives. Prohibition & Reality proves this. The "Law" will consume taxes without "common service" & continue growing Gov. instead of returning Gov to Lawful place in America. The "Law" is extending Prescription Regulation to Gardeners for "selective" consumers. Not because the product is lethal or harmful, but because it was selected to be denied to Free People. Decreed "medicine", in fact a harmless Herb. Gov can be & has only been effective in Protecting Consumers when a valid complaint is received & Inspection is done in a timely manner. Routine Inspections have shown to be a waste of Taxes & dependent positions on the back of Private Sector workers. States are required to spend taxes inspecting products leaving or entering their jurisdiction. Federal same - anything more is unproductive & results in destruction of The American Way of Life.