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Wednesday, August 24,2011

Schuette: A necessary fear?

by Andy Balaskovitz

When a former commercial real estate
professional turned medical marijuana dispensary owner and lobbyist
stopped by the City Pulse office last week, naturally the political and
judicial climate around dispensaries arose.


Ryan Richmond owns Relief Choices, a
dispensary with three locations throughout the state (including one on
Michigan Avenue in Lansing). Unlike some of his colleagues, he’s not
quite as threatened by Attorney General Bill Schuette’s vigilance
against the voter-approved 2008 ballot initiative.


“As a dispensary owner, a little bit of fear with Schuette isn’t all bad — it’s a necessary fear,” he said Wednesday.


Why? Richmond thinks it’ll clean up the
market. If there’s a higher premium placed on operating a reputable shop
with state-of-the-art security, clean facilities and associates with
even cleaner criminal backgrounds, Richmond said, “It’s only going to
change public sentiment” about dispensaries. Richmond’s business on
Michigan Avenue also has an innocuous blue and orange sign out front and
the lobby is, well, bland. Conspicuous neon green cannabis signs also
bother Richmond.


Of course, Richmond’s motives are partly
self-serving because it “limits my competition.” But not totally: “When
Schuette’s out there putting fear in the market, it limits some of these
(less reputable) shops from opening.”


Richmond also is a board member of the
Marijuana Patients Organization, an advocacy group with about 6,000
members; the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Association; and Sensible
Michigan, a medical marijuana political action committee. Richmond said
he’s also teamed up with the Karoub Associates lobbying firm on his
cannabis efforts at the Capitol. 


Richmond’s main focus is on dispensaries.
When Schuette held a press conference Aug. 10 with a variety of
lawmakers, police officials and doctors to introduce a planned
introduction of bills (they say it’s coming this fall), dispensaries
were only narrowly included in the package. In fact, Schuette’s proposal
would give local control to regulating dispensaries. 


Nonetheless, Schuette told City Pulse
that he’s waiting for the court system to decide whether dispensaries
are illegal. He was not shy about referring to them as “pot shops” and
said they’re “creating easy access to a gateway drug.”


Richmond’s theory is this: Reputable
dispensaries will not and should not cower in fear spread by this
attorney general who lobbied against Proposal 1 when he was a state
Court of Appeals judge in 2008. Schuette implies that anyone who owns a
dispensary is illegally dealing drugs next to schools and churches.
Richmond concedes that some dispensaries are operated more
professionally than others. And if any are run as Schuette suggests,
Richmond said they don’t belong in the market. “A lot of people own
dispensaries who shouldn’t own ice cream stores.”




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