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Wednesday, December 21,2011

Yes, we're open

Several medical marijuana dispensaries are still operating in Lansing

by Andy Balaskovitz

Danny Trevino is being targeted by state Attorney General Bill Shuette.

Schuette believes Trevino’s two Hydroworld medical marijuana dispensaries in Lansing are a public nuisance and is trying to shut them down. Further, Schuette has often said in the media that voters never intended for medical marijuana dispensaries when a 2008 ballot initiative passed allowing the use of cannabis for medical reasons. And Schuette has an August state Court of Appeals ruling — commonly referred to as the McQueen case — on his side. Some believe the ruling bans the sale of medical marijuana.

Still, Trevino is undeterred.

“It’s business as usual,” he said in an interview Monday. “I believe people believe that Bill Schuette and company are just messing with everybody.”

And it’s not business as usual just for Trevino. While many of the 41 dispensaries in Lansing closed after the McQueen ruling, City Pulse found that Trevino’s two HydroWorlds and at least five others in the city remain open, operating under varying interpretations of the McQueen case.

Dispensaries from the north side of town near the Capital Regional Airport to South Cedar Street say the McQueen ruling does not affect them because they operate through contributions, compensation for services or as collectives. 

“We don’t sell medicine. What the law is, as we’ve been made to understand, is that it is legal for us to make medicine easier to consume,” said Anthony Parker, co-owner of Best Buds at 1105 S. Washington Ave. in REO Town. “We charge a fee for services rather than medicine.”

Along with Best Buds and the two Hydroworld locations at 4513 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and 700 W. Barnes Ave., other operating dispensaries include Alternative Medicine, 930 E. Mt. Hope Ave.; Canna Lounge, 4617 N. Grand River Ave.; The Herbal Connection, 4314 S. Cedar St.; and Mid-Michigan Patients Group, 3826 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

On Michigan Avenue, where more than a dozen businesses shut down after the ruling, TNT at 2121 E. Michigan, is open, but it is for members only, a spokesman said Tuesday.

All of this business activity is occurring within a five-mile radius of Schuette’s office downtown. Shuette has been an outspoken critic of medical marijuana dispensaries and has aided in efforts to close them across the state. Knowing this — along with the McQueen ruling and advice from attorneys — many dispensaries closed down after Aug. 23 as a way to play it safe from prosecution.

The Appeals Court said in its ruling that Compassionate Apothecary in Mount Pleasant (whose owners, Brandon McQueen and Matthew Taylor, also had a store on Michigan Avenue in Lansing) was a public nuisance, overturning a Mount Pleasant Circuit Court ruling. The Appeals Court said in its 17-page ruling that the “medical use” of cannabis does not include patient-to-patient “sales.”

Lansing City Attorney Brig Smith said in an e-mail Monday that the “City’s policy was and is to abide by state law as recently announced in the McQueen and Bylsma cases. Because it is a state law at issue, and because that law has rendered our ordinance largely, if not entirely, moot, I would suggest you inquire of the State and the County, who are in charge of enforcing state law.”

(In the case of the People vs. Ryan Bylsma, the Appeals Court ruled in September that multiple caregivers cannot collectively grow medical marijuana for patients in an enclosed, locked facility. Bylsma reportedly oversaw 88 plants spread over several caregivers in one facility. State law allows the potential maximum to grow 72 plants per caregiver.)

Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III, who could not be reached for comment for this story, told City Pulse after the appellate court ruling that any dispensaries claiming to be operating under different models — such as compensation for services or through donations — “are going to be found to be wanton.” Dunnings said at the time that he “maintained from the very beginning” that dispensaries are illegal, even though at least two cities — Lansing and Ann Arbor — adopted ordinances to license such businesses. 

Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth said in an interview Monday that he believes the McQueen ruling is clear that dispensaries are illegal. And while enforcing the law would be up to the Lansing Police Department if the dispensary is in the city, he said, doing so is a “matter of acting, getting a complaint or something that would cause the police to go there.”

Wriggelsworth said “that hasn’t happened” within his department and “I don’t know if we have time to go after one particular segment of society. Generally if there’s a court action and a complaint that follows that, we’re going to act on it. But to go around and bang on every dispensary door, I don’t think so.”

A spokesman for the Lansing Police Department did not return a request for comment. However, last week the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported on three raids that took place at “collectives” in the Traverse City area after “evidence of illegal marijuana transfers.” The Michigan State Police reportedly conducted the raids. Other raids on dispensaries since August have reportedly taken place in Oakland County and Bay City.

Lansing-based attorney Matt Newburg — who along with Mary Chartier is seeking to appeal the McQueen case to the state Supreme Court — said for those businesses operating under “contributions” or donations, “the question is whether the contribution is a sale. … McQueen essentially says you can’t sell marijuana and the penalties are significant if you get caught. People are getting shut down by civil action and nuisance claims, but I don’t think that’s going to last very long,” suggesting criminal action could be the next phase of dispensary enforcement.

Cloud 9, 3413 S. Cedar St., is one of the businesses that stopped dispensing medical marijuana, even though it’s still open selling smoking accessories. “I’m not standing with people if they don’t know the consequences,” said the store’s owner, who identified himself as “Q,” referring to open dispensaries. “We’re not going to play with the law.”

Parker, of Best Buds in REO Town, said, “It’s going to take one of us to go to jail to tell us what’s wrong.” Best Buds closed for “two to three months” after the Court of Appeals ruling. He said that the McQueen ruling “crushed us” in terms of business. “People don’t know we reopened and it’s people not knowing what’s going on. They’re scared to come because no one knows if they’ll get arrested for coming in here.”

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