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Posted on Sun, Jan 16, 2011 : 5:39 a.m.

Michigan medical marijuana issues should be solved through legislative action, not litigation

By Tony Dearing

Say whatever else you will about the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, it is not a model of clarity.

But the intent of the act is clear, and so is the level of public support for it, given that almost two-thirds of voters statewide said “yes” to it in 2008. Overwhelmingly, the public wants people who experience chronic pain to have the option of using medical marijuana.

The challenge for local officials across Michigan is to craft regulations for an otherwise illegal drug in ways that respect the spirit of the act. In Ann Arbor, the City Council is expected to take a first vote this week on an ordinance that regulates medical marijuana dispensaries and growing operations.

On the whole, we think the proposed ordinance strikes a reasonable balance, particularly with a set of amendments added by council members earlier this month. We agree with council’s decision not to create a new layer of regulation at this point for people who cultivate and provide small amounts of medical marijuana out of their home, and to focus on dispensaries, which look and act more like storefront operations.


Medical marijuana advocates protest prior to an Ann Arbor City Council meeting earlier this month.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The ordinance, as originally drafted, was vehemently opposed by medical marijuana activists as overly intrusive. They objected to inspections of home-grow operations, and particularly to what they saw as the specter of the city creating a registry with the names of caregivers or patients that could end up in the hands of law enforcement.

The intent was to keep police aware of legal home-grown operations so they didn’t target them as possible drug houses. But the city was right to drop the idea. The Michigan Marijuana Act is clear in its intent to protect the confidentiality of patients and caregivers - not a minor issue, given that medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

We only wish the law were equally clear on other issues. While we support its intent, we agree with the many critics who find the Michigan Marijuana Act to be vague and poorly written - at least from a public policy standpoint. It is, for instance, silent on the issue of dispensaries, leaving local governments to define and regulate them in patchwork fashion across Michigan.

In a community like Ann Arbor, known for its tolerant attitude toward pot, city officials have done a good job of working with medical marijuana advocates to craft reasonable regulations. The ordinance on City Council’s agenda this week, along with a previously introduced ordinance dealing with zoning issues for dispensaries, deserves approval.

But the ambiguities created by this ill-defined law are so great that no local ordinance can resolve them all. Most likely, Michigan is headed into a legal quagmire of litigation over medical marijuana for many years to come, and that’s unfortunate.

It would be better for the Legislature to step in and provide clearer guidelines for how this law should be implemented.

Proposed ordinance

Here are some key elements of the ordinance being considered by Ann Arbor City Council:

  • No person with a felony conviction may operate a dispensary or cultivation facility.

  • In the first year, dispensaries in the city will be capped at no more than 20 and cultivation facilities at no more than 10.
  • Dispensaries must have security cameras, an alarm system and a safe for overnight storage of marijuana and cash.
  • Dispensaries and cultivation facilities cannot do business from 9 p.m. through 7 a.m.
  • Marijuana must be packaged with a label that includes the patient’s name, the name of the business providing the marijuana, the date of delivery, and the weight, type of marijuana and dollar amount of the sale.

The fundamental intention of the Medical Marijuana Act remains sound. It is written to allow people who suffer from debilitating pain to legally grow their own medical marijuana or get it from a caregiver. Each caregiver is to have no more than five patients. All well and good.

But as we stand now, two years later, the law is being used in ways that go well beyond its original intent - and that, in some cases, make a sham of that intent.

Clearly, people are readily obtaining medical marijuana cards who have no real underlying medical condition. And the emergence of dispensaries, which aren’t even mentioned in the law, makes a charade of the patient/caregiver relationship described in the act. When medical marijuana is sold out of a dispensary, the concept of five patients per caregiver is unenforceable, and in many cases non-existent.

If the intent is de facto legalization of marijuana, that’s not what was on the ballot in 2008. Michigan voters thought they were being asked to give people with debilitating illnesses the choice of legally relieving their pain through the legal use of medical marijuana.

Either way, there are many open questions to be resolved, and it would be better to answer them through the legislative process than through the endless litigation that Michigan is headed toward. Among the questions the Legislature might address are these:

Should there be a stricter regulation of the underlying medical conditions that make a patient eligible for medical marijuana?

Is the medical marijuana card that patients receive too open-ended? Should it have a fixed duration, and should it be more like a prescription, giving a dosage and a frequency of use?

Are dispensaries consistent with the law, and if so, to what extent should they be regulated?

Should dispensaries be limited to selling medical marijuana grown here in Michigan, or can they import the pot from other states?

Michigan is not inventing the wheel here. Other states have grappled with issues of medical marijuana, have experienced a variety of problems with it, and have seen their regulation evolve as a result. We should learn from their experiences, and craft policies that respect the intent of the law without letting it be twisted or abused.

(This editorial was published in today's newspaper and reflects the views of the Editorial Board at


David Briegel

Mon, Jan 17, 2011 : 10:12 a.m.

runbum03, Reefer Madness! Skip Mize, Thank you for putting into real context an accurate description of the benefits! Prohibition does NOT and will NOT work. EVER!


Mon, Jan 17, 2011 : 9:18 a.m.

Dearest Runbum03, You don't even know what you are talking about. Both my wife and I are TOTALLY AND PERMANENTLY DISABLED as defined under the rules of the Social Security Administration. The ONLY thing that eases our pain without all the terrible side effects of all the pills we are medical marijuana. Do some research of the side effects of: Percocet, Lyrica, Mobic, Flexeril, and every other muscle relaxer, anti-inflammatory, narcotic and/or opiate based pain medicine. We have been able to throw away those pills and substitute their use with certain strains of medical marijuana.


Sun, Jan 16, 2011 : 11:03 p.m.

correction: Charles Manson


Sun, Jan 16, 2011 : 11 p.m.

Pot is a dangerous drug that needs to be banned. While the connection of the Arizona shooter's psychosis and pot may be weak, we do know that the etymological roots of the word assassin come from the word "hash." Tell me the Mason family weren't heavy pot users. In addition to triggering psychosis in some young men, like any other drug, pot is subject to abuse and can be addictive. There is nothing "medical" about so-called medical pot; that adjective is a misnomer. End the lies: ban Weed now!


Sun, Jan 16, 2011 : 3:55 p.m.

People in Michigan will have far less trouble than other states in regards to home grown pot because it is required to be grown indoors behind a locked door. Yes some will break most law, most likely the ones that are breaking it right now and the cops will bust them because that is why there are police, to catch the bad guys. But most caregivers are extremely conscience of the law and comply. pot growing indoors is very difficult to do right. Less than ten percent are successful at a professional level. And yes it is legal drug dealing because that is what marijuana is a drug until further notice. How long can the comfort in discrimination remain against pot smokers in our culture? You are aware that the largest porn distributors in the country are the top three national hotel chains. Maybe we should make everyone get a porn license, or a gay license, how bout a general sin license for having common sense. Marijuana is here to stay in our culture, and as boomers age, they will emerge as the largest set of pot consumers. Forget about college kids, aging boomers are the goldmine, that's a lot of pain living a long time.


Sun, Jan 16, 2011 : 2:28 p.m.

Medical marijuana is a joke. The law was designed to make it easier for dealers to sell their drugs. Keep he home growers unknown to the police. That sure sounds like only "legal" sales will go on. How is anyone supposed to know the home growing is in small amounts? The law as written should not have appeared on the ballot. At least until the zoning issues were ironed out. This is why laws are best written and passed in the legislature, not by crackpots with clipboards on a street corner. No wonder Michigan is at the bottom of the US in employment, economy, fiscal solvency.

David Briegel

Sun, Jan 16, 2011 : 9:04 a.m.

The only honest solution will be the complete legalization. The rest borders from silly to sad. Helpful to harmful. Imagine if we tried to ban orchids? This is just as silly!! The only beneficiaries of the status quo are the failed War on Drugs Industial Complex and the Prison Indutrial Complex. The byproduct is a lack of respect for authorities.


Sun, Jan 16, 2011 : 8:26 a.m.

Medical Marijuana was voted on by the people and is actually a very simple and clear law. There are two overriding tenants that make it simple to understand and comply with. The first is that no patient may posses more than 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana. The second is that no patient shall be allowed to grow more than 12 plants.Otherwise it was left to the people to try and define a business model. Dispensaries were the model in Colorado and California so it was logical for that model to set up shop in Michigan. The patient caregiver model is more complex to legally comply with, however it regulates the production and supply levels so that the criminal element is modified if not eliminated because it is hard to make money growing legally. I wish I did not have to point out how woefully ignorant city council and the planning office and Mr. Dearing are on the issue of medical marijuana. City council did not even know the basic facts about the law and certainly they have no education about the industry. How can any leaders make valid decisions when they don't know what they are talking about. City council is under the spell of the dispensary activists and the city is going to pass a licensing scheme that will virtually codify organized crime. Furthermore they are failing to realize a massive revenue stream through the certification of every dispensary transaction. The city must force dispensaries into retail only business models like liqour stores. The licences should be five figures at least $15,000 and the city would charge a 15% certification fee split between the grower/dispensary/patient. The dispensaries must be required to purchase all their pot from ann arbor / Washtenaw county growers. At this point wouldn't it be logical to create a non biased non activist community panel to define a set of terms and definitions. Shouldn't we take a lot more time to figure out how to utilize medical marijuana to benefit the community through the funding of non profits and preventing city council from creating unenforceable regulations that the city can't afford to defend in court. Maybe our city leaders should lead throu knowlege not fear. The dispensaries have no legal standing or definition, shut them down until we figure out a regulation scheme that benefits the people of Ann Arbor not syndicate drug cartels. Pain is pain and a Medical Marijuana Card is the equivalent of the military "don't ask don't tell" finally banned last month. Marijuana will be legalized sooner than later. Need i remind our city leaders it has virtually been legalized for almost 40 years in Ann Arbor! Say what Mr Dearing?