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Thursday, November 4,2010

Pot and the Lord

The owner of a cannibis “club” finds his inspiration in his faith.

by Andy Balaskovitz

The Rev. Wayne Dagit is wading through 439 new e-mails when I visit him in his small, sparse office at the Green Leaf Smokers Club in Williamstown Township. It is 7 on a Wednesday night. There is a table barely big enough for his small Dell Notebook computer, a black leather planner and a folder of documents.


On the floor is a prototype light fixture the club intends to sell to medical cannabis patients on a tight budget who want to grow their own medicine.


Out in the lounge there is a Lansing Community College student studying while an Iraq-war veteran talks with John Olson, Dagit’s business partner and right-hand man.


Soon after, three college students make their first visit to the Smokers Club, unsure of the behavioral protocol inherent at a cannabis-smoking bar. Olson gathers their state IDs and medical cannabis cards and asks if they are interested in any brownies.


It is a typical evening at the Green Leaf Smokers Club.


Who is Wayne Dagit? Why does he preach the cannabis gospel? What is he doing in Williamstown Township, of all places?


Wayne “Sonny” Dagit is a religious man. He’s an ordained minister, albeit online by the Universal Life Church, where just about anyone can be ordained — I did it myself in about two minutes. But in Michigan and most places it’s enough to let you legally marry people. The church boasts of 19,607 ordained ministers in the state.


Despite a long list of health issues, Dagit looks good at 60 with short silver hair and a fit, mid-size frame. Though he’s no Bible-belter, his mission in life is to get people off hard prescription drugs and offer them a way to God without being ostracized in a typical church setting. The Smokers Club is a safe and socially acceptable way of bringing cannabis users together, he says.


“We had the cojones to stand up and say, ‘We have the right to be ourselves,’” he said. “I put it all out there because I want to help you. If I can help you reach God, then that’s great too.”


Dagit is angered by the thought that cannabis users feel cast aside, degraded or ashamed for the medicine they choose to use.


“If you’re not interested in being thrown out or made a pet-project by most churches, come to mine,” he said. “You can stink, be a biker or a prostitute, I don’t care. We are not a resort for saints — we are a hospital for sinners.”


He just so happens to have found a way to bring people closer to God via cannabis. As the leader of the Church for Compassionate Care (CFCC) Ministries, he runs the Green Leaf Smokers Club and also Green Leaf University, a cannabisgrowing certification program that offers free classes. The Club opened March 1 and classes at the university begin April 1.


Olson echoes that sentiment.


“We don’t care what you have or what you do. If you are sick and have no place to go, you can come here,” he said.


Olson says he suffers from cancerous tumors that are spreading quickly up his torso. He grew up in Lansing and is in the process of becoming ordained.


“Both of us (he and Dagit) are past our expiration dates. If this is how it ends, I am fine with that,” Olson said.


Dagit’s past is colorful, to say the least. He has known drugs, the wrong side of the law and a great deal of physical pain. He has been a biker, a pimp, a gangster, an addict, a family man and, more recently, a minister.


After hitting bottom in 1992, Dagit began studying the Bible and 11 years later became ordained. He moved to Michigan from Illinois shortly after the medical cannabis law passed in November 2008 and has devoted his time entirely to CFCC Ministries.


“I have found my calling,” he said.


There is a laundry list of ailments afflicting his body, most notably sclerosis of the liver, of which he is awaiting a new one. His doctor predicted he would die three years ago. It was through this suffering that Dagit learned of “the miracle of marijuana,” as he calls it.


“I got three more years with my 15-year-old son because of marijuana,” Dagit, who is 60, said.


While prescribed morphine, Vicodin, hydrocodone and diazepam, he came to a realization: These drugs were deteriorating his liver quicker than the actual disease.


“That is like the doctor saying, ‘You are going to die and we will help you get there, but we’re going to let you feel good going,'” he said.


The addictive qualities of these substances are why Dagit rails against them. Fighting back tears, he recalls the deaths of two friends from overdoses. One was prescribed morphine patches.


“My friends died and they didn’t need to. And it pisses me off,” Dagit said. “I have a 15-year-old son, and I don’t want to go out as an addict too.”


Though the Smokers Club has been in the local news lately, dubbed one big party by the county sheriff, Dagit says it is close-minded to believe everyone is there just to get high.


“If a marijuana user becomes a patient, it often means they have already been prescribed opiates,” he said. “If it’s only about getting high, they already have the best drugs to do that — why would they need pot?”


Dagit doesn’t do it for the money, either. After liver damage ended his welding job making $42 per hour, the Reverend now settles for about $1,200 per month, which mostly goes back into the ministry. For him, it’s about getting people in the door to learn and be safe. So far, it’s working.


In the first three days, 70 people made the $20 membership donation, while 242 patients came to visit the club. Olson said peak business hours are in the evening after work and some customers make a several hours’ drive to check it out.


Dagit predicts the club will continue attracting new patrons long after the media frenzy over his shop dies down. They have plans to move out of their current facility as club membership rises along with Green Leaf University enrollment.


The
reverend held his first sermon in Michigan on Sunday at The Roadhouse
Driving Range and Banquet Center in Williamston. There were 13 people
in attendance, mostly friends and Club workers.


Debbie
Warner, who leases the office space to Dagit and owns The Roadhouse
with her husband, says she is more than happy to help the reverend,
whose community service goals she shares.


“He is a good man,” she said. “With us, it’s all about community service and that is exactly what he is doing.”


Sermons
will run every Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon at the driving range and
banquet center, each followed by a free lunch and a session for
“exercising your rights,” as Dagit puts it — meaning using cannabis.


After
the 15-minute sermon, 32-year-old Williamston resident and medical
cannabis patient Mandy Swee enjoyed two joints with other churchgoers
in the bar area. She was beaming with excitement.


“This is a dream come true. Who would have thought the church would come to Williamston of all places?” she asked.


Swee
just made the church her caregiver and gets her cannabis for free
because she is on a low income. She has been to the Smokers Club every
day since it opened, she said.


Swee delighted over the cup of coffee she bought at the Club the day before, which was laced with New York Diesel cannabis.


“There
is a world of difference between a sick person using marijuana and some
18-year-old just trying to get high,” she said. “I remember those days.”


As
Dagit finished reading from Luke 4:18, a passage on perseverance
proclaiming “freedom for the prisoners and sight for the blind,” his
words let his followers know that they are on their way in Michigan to
assemble and use cannabis freely without persecution. “If anything, I
see 13 people that have each other,” he said. “And that’s a start.”



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