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Wednesday, December 29,2010

Shekina Pena

The owner of Your Healthy Choice Clinc, 628 E. Michigan Ave., talks about opening a medical marijuana shop downtown, legalization and hemp farming

by Andy Balaskovitz
Illustration by Vince Joy

How has medical marijuana, in your perspective, changed Lansing over the past year?


It has definitely been a rocket for businesses and employment. I truly believe it has helped the community. I am excited for the moratorium because it’s going to help us revamp and get some leadership from City Council. If there are city permits and fees coming, then let’s do that so we can start getting respected as a business.


The last year, with people coming out and making businesses for themselves — it’s been a blessing, I think. Medical marijuana has changed a lot of people’s lives.


What was it like starting a medical marijuana business right on Michigan Avenue, just a few blocks from the Capitol?


It wasn’t that tough at first. I worked at Sparrow (Hospital) for years and I thought, ‘We have nothing to hide.’ I have a very open book business — come check my taxes and my accounts. I don’t stash money in my house. I was excited to get out there on “Main Street” and do it. And then when they had rallies at the Capitol we could walk down there and walk back, so it was kind of neat.


Are you concerned about some of the recent federal raids near Lansing?


I’m not. I think they’re looking for grow houses and importers. Our medicine comes from farmers who are cultivating here in Michigan. We don’t have grow houses. I have no idea what’s really going on or what they’re searching for. But hopefully, here, they’d just walk in the door and not kick it in or put guns to peoples’ heads. That’s kind of scary.


Where do you think Lansing stacks up compared to other communities in Michigan as far as letting this industry mature?


There are a few dispensaries in Ann Arbor, and when I visited a couple of them, I was shocked. They’re right in the business districts too — they’re just out there, around the corner from the police station. I think what Lansing and other cities (with dispensaries) are doing is amazing. I know we’re liberal here and have more on City Council (that support it) than other cities that are bigger. We’re also in a historic area, so it’s like history being made. But it happened and we’re here.


You specialize in the medicinal aspects of marijuana and really stress that with patients. How do you deal with the opinion that cannabis is nothing more than a drug, that there’s no such thing as medical marijuana, that people are just getting high?


We get a lot of that. But we were just raised that way. I raised my son telling him that it’s a drug and you don’t do it and that you don’t abuse cocaine. A lot of people don’t know the history of cannabis. But once we start talking about it and educate people on it, it’s enlightening. People fear what they don’t know.


If they could even put the levels of THC in each product, have them labeled before they are put out there, that would be great. I’ve had the idea of testing labs for businesses along Michigan Avenue and all of Lansing, so people can see what type of medicine they’re getting. That’s what I’m thinking, so we can really get down to the medicine part of it, but we’ll see.


Where do you stand on legalization?


I’m for it. We have a clinic and we get a lot of certifications, but we barely make money anyway. Even though when you get it legal you still have all these (medical) businesses, the reality is hemp farming. We need more growers, we need it legalized because it will benefit all of us in the long run. And the physicians in their own private care offices should be signing up people for free. So I say legalize it.


Where do you see things moving forward?


Hopefully in the next couple years we start talking about hemp farming in Michigan. That would replace the automotive industry, period. No one’s looking at that. Hemp is so much softer and more efficient than cotton and you can use it for oils and gas and paper — there are so many benefits. Hemp paper is so expensive because we don’t have it growing everywhere. But it would benefit all of us and create so many jobs. It would spark industry.


Between that and legalizing it, we need to open the door for more research on it. Look at Rick Simpson oil. He got kicked out of his country, but why? Because he’s revealing something that pharmaceutical companies don’t like? If this maybe could be a cure for someone’s cancer, then let’s try it. I don’t understand it.


Hopefully we can also break down those levels of THC because I know someone can grow Blueberry, I can grow Blueberry, and yours may be way better than mine. But looking at it, touching it and it being sticky, we won’t be able to tell until we break it down, test it or smoke it.


But, even with that, if we smoke yours and smoke mine how will we be able to tell? We’re both high (laughs). Hopefully we can break it down like they do in California with testing labs.

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