Dispensaries Getting Stoned as Board Decides the Future of Medical Marijuana

Map of the medical Marijuana Caregiver Center Application Status
Map shows locations and business names of medical marijuana centers in Detroit while allowing residents to report problems associated with the shops.(Photo: The City of Detroit)

In a dimly lit apartment exuding the strong smell of an exotic incense and the faint smell of cannabis sits a patient, James Ramos, who lights a cigarette sized marijuana joint. “It helps me relax in stressful environments, like this” James chuckles, a disabled veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Just last December James was suicidal and addicted to prescription painkillers. “I got my medical card in February and my life has transformed. I think pot has played a large role in my recovery, happiness, and the relief of some of my symptoms.”

Michigan legalized medical marijuana in 2008 which eventually resulted in the opening of caregiver centers and dispensaries that provided a much needed “safe-haven” for patients to secure medicine. However, this also allowed for some shops to open without obtaining city-licenses and a few shops were practicing shady business ethics.

That changed in 2013 when the Michigan Supreme Court outlawed the purchasing or selling of medicinal marijuana inside shops. This spearheaded many law enforcement raids, seizures, and closures of 163 centers in Detroit. Detroit has eight city-licensed dispensaries and over 100 in the application process that are remaining open.

After four long confusing years Michigan Legislature approved bills to regulate and tax medical marijuana. This has also opened the door for political intimidation. “Every dispensary out there is in open violation of the act,” Don Bailey told Kathleen Gray of the Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau in a Freep article on Sep. 10. “In order to get a handle on this going forward, they have to be shut down right now. And for those anticipating getting into the business, nobody should have a 40-yard advantage.”

The Department of License and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) has announced that all dispensaries need to be shut down by Dec. 15, but Don Bailey has stated that his date is September 15 and any dispensary remaining open is in violation of the law. Local dispensaries declined to comment but had reminders to contact politicians about the LARA laws on flyers posted to the doors.

There could be absolution for city-licensed dispensaries and care centers in the form of bills put to state that would cancel out advisories from the Board of Medical Marijuana. Who are these political white knights? Sen. David Knezek, D- Dearborn Heights and Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D- Ann Arbor brought the bills to State the week of September 27 and Sen. Knezek hopes for a quick turn-around.

These bills would allow current city-licensed dispensaries and care centers to remain open while in the application process. The applications will be reviewed and decisions made at some time during the first quarter of 2018.

“It became very apparent that this was never the intention of the Legislature and we need to do something to ensure that people have safe and accessible medicine,” Knezek told Kathleen Gray on Sep. 27. “We don’t want to force patients back to the underground, where products can be dangerous.”

In the meantime, James Ramos and the 218,555 other licensed patients are in limbo. If the dispensaries close indefinitely after Dec. 15, where will patients go for their much-needed medical marijuana? “I have a small grow op that I am hoping will provide for me but others may need to turn to the black market,” said Ramos. “Some of those patients may have never used backdoor channels for their medicine and it could be very unsafe. I think those are the people that the politicians need to consider when making these decisions.” As of today, we are still waiting for that decision.