Things change quickly in the uncharted territory of Michigan’s medical marijuana dispensaries.
But never more abruptly than in the past week — leaving patients, government officials, law enforcement and the owners of some 20 dispensaries in Washtenaw County with many questions and few answers.
First came a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that made the sale of marijuana at dispensaries illegal in the eyes of the state. The establishments can be shut down under a state public nuisance law, according to state Attorney General Bill Schuette
Despite that, officials from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office can’t say for certain what will happen to local dispensaries.
Thursday, Michigan State Police drug investigators raided two Ann Arbor medical marijuana dispensaries — an action they said was part of an ongoing investigation into the businesses and not related to the court ruling.
Now, some dispensary owners have shut their doors, while others say business will continue as usual. They say they’ve been taking hundreds of calls from patients as to what it all means.
The future for dispensary business in Michigan looks uncertain at best.
“It’s pretty clear from the court of appeals that they’re expecting compliance to be strict,” Washtenaw County Chief Deputy Assistant Prosecutor Steve Hiller said. “When there’s money changing hands, it’s not OK.”
A news release issued by Schuette’s office Wednesday states the attorney general will send a letter to the state’s 83 county prosecutors outlining how the ruling “empowers them to close dispensaries and provide instructions on how to file similar nuisance actions to close dispensaries in their own counties.”
Voters approved the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act in 2008; the law went into effect in April 2009.
Michigan requires patients to acquire a physician’s recommendation for medical marijuana for certain medical conditions and register for a state registry ID card. Then they can grow marijuana plants themselves or use the services of a state-registered caregiver, who can grow up to 12 plants apiece for as many as five patients.
State law was silent on dispensaries before Tuesday’s appeals court ruling.
Still open for business?
Phone calls went unanswered at least six Ann Arbor dispensaries that AnnArbor.com attempted to reach on Thursday and Friday.
Those who picked up the phone were often reluctant to give a name or offer any information at all to a reporter — including whether or not the business was open.
A few dispensary partners were willing to share their opinions on the events of the week.
Jamie Lowell is a co-founder of 3rd Coast Compassion Center in Ypsilanti. His dispensary is open for business, he said Friday. The shop was the first to open in the state and has thousands of members — individuals who present a state-approved medical marijuana card and pay a small membership fee to join, he said.
“What we are is a space where individual caregivers and patients can come out and carry out the spirit and intent of the law,” Lowell said.
He declined to provide details on how or if members compensate the dispensary for marijuana.
He said closing the dispensary would impact thousands of individuals’ lives by lowering their quality of life.
“They’ve been relying on us to help out,” he said.
People’s Choice Alternative Medicine in Ann Arbor also has remained open in the days since the ruling, owner Daryl Mines said. He said the appeals court ruling on a for-profit dispensary doesn’t apply to his business, which he said is non-profit.
“We are a non-profit and we take donations; we do not sell anything,” Mynes said.
Regardless, the shop’s days in the location by Michigan Stadium are numbered. Separate from the ruling and the raids, the city of Ann Arbor has been working this summer to shut it down following complaints from neighbors, City Attorney Stephen Postema said.
The complaints include reports of alleged drug deals in the vicinity of the business, loud music and the location operating after business hours. Additionally, the location is zoned for office use, which is in violation of a new city zoning ordinance approved in June to address marijuana dispensaries.
The city sent cease and desist letters to the business and the bank that owns the property at 1054 S. Main St. in July, Postema said.
“Even before this court ruling came down, we would have moved to have them declared a nuisance,” he said.
People’s Choice wants to be a good neighbor and fix any problems that arise, Mynes said.
The shop, which serves around 3,000 members, has outgrown the space as well.
Mynes plans to move and apply for a dispensary license with the city in a properly zoned location he declined to name.
Postema said Saturday the property owner plans to evict the business next week.
Patients left looking for medicine
The appeals court ruling means some local medical marijuana patients who purchased the drug at dispensaries can’t get medicine from a source they’ve come to rely on.
Patients with qualifying medical conditions — like cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and other afflictions listed in the state act — can acquire medical marijuana under the state law.
While the drug’s purchase is illegal in the eyes of the federal government, thousands of patients buy marijuana at Ann Arbor’s dispensaries, according to owners, who typically describe the transactions as donations for services.
One Ann Arbor patient said her dispensary closed last week, leaving her with two days worth of marijuana, which she takes to address a traumatic brain injury.
Koos Eisenberg said she’s upset that OM of Medicine — the dispensary at 112 S. Main St. she’s been going to since April — has closed its doors.
AnnArbor.com could not reach owners of the shop to confirm its closure.
Eisenberg said the court ruling has left patients like her in a state of limbo, wondering where to go for their medicine.
“From what I understand of the law, it’s not legal for me to call another patient and say, ‘Do you have any medicine I can borrow?’” she said. “What am I supposed to do? I don’t want to do anything illegal because I don’t want to lose the privilege of my medical marijuana card.”
She said she’s taken up to 30 prescription medications but reduced that to 12 since turning to medical pot.
“But now the only legal option I have would be to call my doctor and say, ‘I have to abruptly stop smoking marijuana and go back on pain killers.’ That is not something I want to do to my body.”