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Wednesday, February 26,2014

Is new pot shop legal?

City attorney looking into “resource center” on Michigan Avenue after Councilwoman Washington raises concerns

by Andy Balaskovitz
The smell of pot was heavy in the air inside Michigan Avenue’s newest business.

TNT, calling itself a medical marijuana “resource center,” opened at 1825 E. Michigan over the weekend. It’s been doing a steady business.

It’s already gotten attention from the City Council after Councilwoman Jody Washington raised concerns. The city attorney, Janene McIntyre, said she is reviewing the law to see if it can operate legally.

TNT is a private club where valid medical marijuana patients are matched up with area caregivers, its owner says. It is registered with the state as TNT Industries LLC. As of Monday afternoon, 17 members had signed up.

The owner, Toni Tripp, said that cannabis and pot-infused food products are kept onsite, though patients can’t acquire them without a membership in the club. That requires signing a waiver, explaining in 10 steps how the center works.

Tripp opened TNT after “taking a deep breath” following a 2011 state appellate court ruling, upheld by the state Supreme Court, that effectively shut down many of the dispensaries in Lansing, hers included. She had owned and operated a dispensary two blocks west of her new location.

“I’ve always had the mission to get people off prescription drugs. That’s my big mission and still is,” Tripp said. “Now it’s time to get back on track and complete this mission.”

But she is quick to point out that TNT is not a dispensary. Tripp said employees at the center act as consultants for prospective patients.

Anyone looking to join must sign a contract that states they are“agreeing to be a member of a private club for medical marihuana patients.” While it calls itself a club, “TNT will not consent to ingestion of medical marihuana in any form by any means of (sic) clinic grounds,” the contract states.

However, on Monday, the smell of recently smoked pot was easily detectable inside TNT’s inner sanctum, accessible by members only, though no one  was seen smoking it.

Additionally, the contract states, “you are saying that you understand that medical marihuana may not be sold, and that you have obtained medical marihuana through consultation, and cost recovery of TNT. NOT the purchase of medical marihuana itself.

“Compensation for cost shall be for preparation of medical marihuana in one of the various ways commonly consumed.”

Learning of its opening, 1st Ward Councilwoman Washington, whose district includes TNT, expressed concern.

She added the topic to a City Council Public Safety Committee agenda on short notice, which met on Tuesday afternoon to discuss it. The committee will review whether it’s violating any laws.

McIntyre said Monday she’s “still reviewing” the matter. Former City Attorney Brigham Smith issued a cease and desist letter to city dispensaries in August 2011 following the Appeals Court ruling in what’s commonly known as the McQueen case.

“In light of the Court’s ruling that sales of marihuana among qualifying patients are not protected by the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, it is clear that activities occurring at most, if not all, of the medical marihuana establishments operating in the City of Lansing are illegal,” Smith wrote in a press release.

At the time, the city had started a licensing program for dispensaries, but that was shut down before any licenses were issued.

The city has defined “medical marihuana establishment” as “any nonresidential land use involving the growth or distribution of marihuana.”

Lansing attorney Matthew Newburg said, based on the appellate court’s ruling in McQueen (which was upheld by the state Supreme Court), that as long as TNT’s patients are legally connected to a caregiver, there should be no problem in a qualified caregiver transferring marijuana to his qualified patient. But for a case to be defensible in court, he said, a defendant would have to show a series of steps taken between a doctor and a patient showing the patient qualifies for using cannabis. “That information has to be conveyed from the doctor to the patient to the caregiver,” he said.

Tripp understands the ambiguities that arise when opening a medical-marijuana related storefront. Statewide legislation has passed the House of Representatives that would allow local communities to regulate or ban “provisioning centers,” but it’s stalled in a Senate committee (see page 7).

“Obviously, unfortunately, it is a risk,” Tripp said of opening, let alone on a prominent stretch of the city that once held a dozen dispensaries. “I really thought about that. I never had any intentions of being back on Michigan Avenue. But when I looked at all the other areas of Lansing, they were not good.”

The new location is decorated with pro-marijuana signs in the window (“Stop arresting patients,” “Medical marijuana: The anti-drug) and a red, white and blue “open” sign stuck in the ground at the street. The interior was completely renovated and separated into two rooms, a lobby and an area for the meds. Said Tripp: “It looks better than the old liquor store,” referring to the previous tenant, Michigan Mart.

(RJ Wolcott contributed reporting for this story.)

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