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Thursday, November 4,2010

The smell

The first medical marijuana

by Andy Balaskovitz

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YPSILANTI – Riding the elevator down from the third floor of the Marriot Hotel at Eagle Creek, a medical marijuana caregiver leaned over and said to me, “Any place you can fuck you can smoke.”

And for sure, at the first Michigan Caregivers Cup, there was a distinct skunk-like odor hanging about the hotel.


Event-goers were quick to explain that it’s all in the strain: “That’s a blueberry.” “New York diesel.” “Strawberry cough-yes, definitely strawberry cough.” “White widow.” “Sonic boom!” one yelled.


The cannabis culture was in town.


More than 1,000 people from Michigan and elsewhere showed up for what was supposed to be a competition to judge the various strains of marijuana offered by caregivers licensed under Michigan’s new medical marijuana laws. The judges were to be state-carded patients.


Last week, though, Washtenaw County authorities deemed the competition aspect of the weekend illegal, reducing the weekend to largely an educational event.


If event-goers couldn’t judge strains publicly, surely they were inspecting them privately.


The vaporizing tent outdoors—for patients only, where they could legally inhale marijuana in vaporized form — was like a designated drinking area at a Lugnuts game.


Indoors, though, attendees were partaking as well.


By the end of the first day, hotel management placed an industrialsized fan near the third floor elevators to air out the floor. The smell was omnipresent.


Their smoking may have been legal, but many of them ended up with a fine anyway — $250 added to their room bills for smoking against the hotel’s policy.


Organizers kept the vending tables and lectures in order to preserve the educational aspects of the weekend. Outside in the patient tent, legal users mingled around 40 vaporizers, sharing medicine, stories and business techniques. To some, this was as good as or better than a competition.


While this year’s cup may have been a bit watered down without the competition, relations between the state’s two main advocacy groups are heating up.


The Michigan Medical Marijuana Association thinks controversial events, such as a pot-growing competition, are veiled attempts at movements for legalization. The Michigan Marijuana Chamber of Commerce says, “So what?”


Anthony Freed, executive director of the chamber of commerce, said hosting a competition was part of a plan to stimulate business in Michigan, engage with the law and progress patient’s rights. Ultimately he would like to see it legalized and doesn’t think the cannabis community should settle on the current law in place.


“We’re going to do everything we can to turn Michigan back into the industrial center it once was,” he said. “Complacency and death of ingenuity is what is holding us back.”


While both groups agree the Caregivers Cup took on an important educational dimension, the rift between medicinal use and legalization separates them.


To Freed, medicinal use is only one dimension of cannabis.


“Focusing on one thing doesn’t do the movement justice. If you really wanted to help patients, you’d use every political channel to get to legalization,” he said.


“Realizing the benefits of pharmaceutical research, the hemp industry, responsible adult consumption and the medicinal benefits — that’s what legalization would look like,” he said.


Legalization is not the same issue as medicinal use, though. It’s a touchy subject even within the cannabis community.


Brandy Zink, executive director of the MMMA, said getting medicinal use passed was a victory and that the law in place is working.


The MMMA supports local zoning ordinances to regulate grow operations and hopes to see a patient collective or non-profit dispensary system in the future. But they will not stand behind legalization efforts, she said, including a cannabis competition.


“It is morally reprehensible to exploit the patients’ suffering to glorify the legalization of marijuana,” she said. “We lobbied heavily to eliminate the cup and are happy (Anthony) decided to cancel this dangerous competition.”


Zink said there was outcry among MMMA members to boycott the competition. There is no mention of the expo on MMMA’s Web site. Though Zink gave multiple lectures at the Caregivers Cup, it was only because Freed dropped the contest.


“We were not going to participate if that was part of the event,” she said. “We are working for safe, reliable, affordable access to medicine. The original design of the contest did not do that.”


Freed acknowledges the danger patients face by judging cannabis in an illegal competition. That is why he called it off, he said.


“We’re not interested in using people’s safety and well-being to prove a point,” said Freed. “I was just trying to push the envelope.”


Zink said pushing the envelope did not have to mean keeping her organization in the dark.


Questions about the legality of the contest portion climaxed last week before the event took place, despite Freed telling stakeholders everything was fine, Zink said.


After meeting with the Washtenaw County prosecutor, Freed decided to postpone the cannabis judging. But he is unwavering in his core belief that cannabis should be legalized, taxed and regulated and not accepted for good under Michigan’s medicinal use, caregiver/patient structure.


“This (event) is wonderful and I’d never do anything to make it go away. But to think this is the way it should be is just giving up,” Freed said.


By
the end of the event, both sides agreed it was hugely educational and
were happy like-minded proponents of the law could get together for a
weekend.


One
woman, who asked not to be identified, was warming up in the lobby of
the Marriot Hotel, having just come in from the outdoor patient tent.
Vaporizing is her new favorite way of using cannabis. She was told “not
to tell anybody anything” from a fellow patient and is in fear of
losing her job of 30 years by talking to a reporter.


The
St. Johns woman said the Caregivers Cup was mostly educational and the
divide between having a contest or not was just bickering.


“There is always going to be opposition,” she said. “I don’t worry about all that. I know I’m living proof that it (cannabis) helps and I’m all about helping someone carry it.”


The
only time the woman used cannabis before getting her patient’s license
in August was for recreational use in the 1960s, she said. But 30 years
in the post office business, persistent leg and back pain and an
alternative to pills drew her to cannabis.


“It
feels good to have that to turn to for pain instead of pills,” she
said. “If it works — why can’t we use it?”


To her, a competition to see
who is growing the best cannabis in Michigan would not have been
beneficial. She is grateful for the new law and thought the first
Caregivers Cup Expo was a helpful, necessary celebration of that law.


“I’m
pleased with the information they’re getting out to the people who
actually need it,” she said, “not for people that are just looking to
get stoned.”



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