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Wednesday, January 12,2011

To market, to market

Inside Lansing’s medical marijuana farmers markets

by Andy Balaskovitz
If you’ve walked through a traditional farmers’ market of fresh eggs, fruits, veggies and baked goods, you can easily grasp the concept of Lansing’s medical marijuana farmers’ markets.

Small plants, usable product, baked goods, smoking accessories — all in great variety — highlight these new ventures that offer a different take on the dispensary model.


Your Healthy Choice Clinic at 628 E. Michigan Ave. on Sunday afternoons turns into a shoulder-to-shoulder shopping center for qualified medical marijuana patients and caregivers. At any given time between noon and 5 p.m., as many as 50 shoppers browse the narrow office space downtown.


Fifteen vendors are eager to show off their products, which range from baby cannabis plants (clones) to suckers laced with hash.


“This is the true meaning of compassion,” said Kris Allbec, a vendor from Adrian. “The patient clearinghouse is amazing.”


At Your Healthy Choice, owner Shekina Peña said up to 15 vendors can squeeze into the roughly 1,000-square-foot space. She provides the card tables or counter space; vendors bring in their medicine. “Rent” for a table is on a donation basis. You must be a member of the club and a qualified patient or caregiver to enter the building. There is no medicating on site.


Peña, whose club is up to 1,700 members, said vending space is booked three to four weeks in advance.


“Some vendors have come from the U.P.,” Peña said. “I was checking ZIP codes and saying, ‘Wow, is this even Michigan?’”


Allbec, who drives the 100 miles to Lansing each weekend, has been to markets in Battle Creek, Jackson and Flint. She says the Your Healthy Choice market is a good starting point for Lansing.


“You could easily do it three days a week,” she said of setting up displays. “I’ve been on the road for about a year.”


These markets operate under the legal theory that patient-to-patient and caregiver-to-caregiver transfers of cannabis are legal in the same way as at dispensaries around town do every day. The idea with a market, though, is that you bring growers from all walks of life together who may not be involved with a dispensary. In turn, patients have myriad choices of medicine.


The range of medibles at Your Healthy Choice was diverse. The second table from the door had baggies of trail mix and granola clusters made with cannabis cooking oil. Two more stands in, a vendor had a crock pot of cannabis-infused hot chocolate and suckers. And then there were the usual suspects of brownies, muffins and cookies.


Chuck Butler, also from Adrian, was standing next to Allbec’s table eating some granola clusters.


“It’s great to have all these products here, all the variety,” he said.


Butler was also sipping on a $5 fruit drink from one of the vendors. “I didn’t even know they made this stuff.”


Mike Moore, who has been coming to Lansing dispensaries for the past year, found out about the Your Healthy Choice farmers’ market when he was in buying clones about six months ago. Jan. 2 was his first shot at vending. Moore and his wife are from Grand Rapids and are both medical marijuana patients.


“Grand Rapids needs to allow something like this,” he said.


“You’ve heard of the ‘medical mile’ in Grand Rapids,” he added, referring to the boom of the traditional medical industry downtown, guided in no small part by “DeVos family money.”


“They need to let it mature on its own in Grand Rapids. This is a very good co-op here,” Moore said. “It’s truly helping people.”


Top Shelf Budz, 1743 E. Michigan Ave. on Lansing’s east side, hosts its market on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.


Owner Steve Joseph offers space on a donation basis and has room for eight vendors in the old Capital City Collectibles comic book store building.


There weren’t any customers at about 1 p.m. Saturday, so George Schneider took some time away from his table covered with assorted jars of usable product and a Bob Marley “Freedom” flag.


Schneider, 45, started Field of Dreams Consultants for new patients and caregivers. He loves the idea of caregivers and patients networking out in the open at farmers’ markets.


“It would be a disservice for the local government to take this away. Markets create an even playing field for caregivers and patients,” he said. “It’s no different than any other commerce going on.”


Further, Schneider says, those who oppose regulating it seem to contradict themselves because they don’t see the economic benefits.


“Everybody I know is asking a million questions to accountants. We’re entrepreneurs, we’ve created work for people,” Schneider said. “We’re not lazy — the moral minority seems to be the problem.”


Matt Smrek, a 24-year-old vendor from Lansing, agrees. He has worked his share of fast-food jobs, he said. This is his first time vending at a farmers’ market.


“Now this is a job for me,” he smiles as he shows me a jar full of a finely cured Jack Herer strain going for $15 a gram. “I’m trying to make a living, not a killing.”


The Michigan Medical Marijuana Club at 6046 S. Cedar St. wants to distance itself from other dispensaries in town, but it too is giving members-only farmers’ markets a shot.


Todd Holforty, president of the membership-based compassion club, started a market two weeks ago. It is on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from noon to 8 p.m.


Three vendors had stands on Saturday, and Holforty said five or six people show up on average.


“Not a lot of customers yet,” Holforty said. “I just get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people find the right meds.”


The Marijuana Club is made up of four board members and emphasizes alternatives to smoking, like tinctures, oils and creams, along with raw cannabis. So far it has 30 members.


“We’re looking to get more people involved. We have space for up to 12 vendors and expect to have a decent amount of occupancy,” he said.


He said the networking between patients and caregivers is crucial. He wants to set up a space where perfect strangers can meet up and share knowledge, contacts and product when necessary. And, he adds, everyone who is allowed should be growing to the best of their ability because the need for medicine is out there.


“A patient who doesn’t grow and doesn’t have a caregiver is doing a disservice to the community because the community needs it,” Holforty said.

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