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An ordinance to regulate Lansing’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry continues to fuel tensions between aspiring entrepreneurs and the elected officials charged with the oversight of their livelihoods.
But a judge’s order aims to mandate civility after a rift at City Clerk Chris Swope’s office took a personal turn.
Chelsey Barron, a local provisioning center applicant and would-be owner at GotMeds, earlier this year was disheartened to learn she didn’t make the cut for a limited number of dispensary licenses available under the city’s complex selection process. That’s when her husband, Mike Barron, got involved, he said.
“The system we have is pay to play,” Mike Barron said. “They want to get rid of all of us; The little fish, basically. The pay-to-play shops are the ones that are still open. … We just need a new ordinance that works for everyone.”
Exact details regarding the recent denial are specifically exempt from disclosure under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act but Swope maintains the Barrons scored far too low on a point-based system designed to cherry-pick the creme of the (marijuana) crop. There was essentially no chance they’d gain approval, Swope said.
An application for a personal protection order filed last month in 30th Circuit Court maintained Barron — in the aftermath of learning of Swope’s decision — angrily phoned the City Clerk’s Office and made veiled threats toward staff that answered his call. Barron about a week later turned to Facebook as his irritation festered.
“He said he was coming after me,” Swope said. “I’m barely acquainted with him. I don’t know this individual. He seems to be very irritated and agitated, directed at me. It seemed that he wasn’t completely reasonable and I didn’t want to have anything to do with him. … I’ve never had to file a PPO before. I had to learn how to do it.”
Barron, in cellphone videos broadcasted online, stands on the sidewalk outside Bradly’s Home and Garden on Grand River Avenue, encouraging others to “harass” the owner and Swope’s husband, Brad Rakowski. Court records state he barged inside and labeled Swope an obstacle to his family’s marijuana-related aspirations.
An embroidered “Fuck Chris Swope” hat that Barron had made just added insult to injury, Swope said.
“While he’s sitting downtown stroking his pen, he’s ruining someone’s business down the street,” Barron explained, maintaining he never threatened violence toward Swope or his husband. “I just wanted to check out his business. It wasn’t really a pissing match but it turned into one. … (Swope) has his head in the clouds.”
Chief Probate Judge George Economy’s recent order bars Barron from crossing paths with Swope until at least Dec. 8, both at his workplace or at his home. Designed to quell Swope’s growing concerns for his personal safety, the temporary restraining order also prohibits Barron from again returning To Bradly’s Home and Garden either in Lansing or the Grand Rapids location.
“It’s disappointing when people revert to some type of revenge,” Swope said. “That word has been used.”
Barron said his behavior never crossed any legal lines. He was simply expressing frustration with Lansing’s “broken” system for marijuana-related enterprises, he argued. His wife’s business — along with dozens of others that took root under former mayor Virg Bernero’s administration — have since been forced to close their doors.
“I don’t believe it was a fair process from the beginning,” Barron added.
City Ordinance 1217 mandates Swope first select only 20 provisioning centers to operate within city limits. Five more could gain approval within the next year but many of an estimated 80 dispensaries won’t be able to open. Swope said he’s only considering businesses that score on the higher end of his private scoring mechanism.
More than a dozen licenses for growing operations and other facets of the industry have been approved but Swope has taken his time with provisioning centers. Records show dozens have applied, faced rejection and appealed but none have been sanctioned. And Swope doesn’t have a timeline for when those will be processed.
“We’re very close, but it’s a bit hard to predict,” Swope added. “A lot of it depends on other departments.”
Barron argued the point-based system — with a heavy focus on job creation and capital investment — gives preferential treatment to outside investors with cash to spend while local shops are left to wither on the vine. A similar message was echoed by attorneys tied to a lawsuit filed against the city in response to the ordinance.
“I’m ashamed of the city and how they’ve pencil-whipped their way through this whole process,” Barron said, labeling himself a vehement supporter of Let Lansing Vote’s lawsuit but denying any personal ties to the case. The suit, if successful, would require the city’s medical marijuana ordinance to be placed on the ballot.
The swipes against Swope are instead motivated by a desire to level the entrepreneurial playing field, Barron added. But Swope maintained GotMeds — after Mike Barron’s felony forgery and counterfeiting conviction in 1998 — would have been ineligible for a state license regardless of how the city handled his wife’s application.
And state law requires provisioning centers gain approval from both the state and their local municipality.
“It’s not even about this dispensary,” Barron added. “GotMeds will probably go away. There are too many things wrong with the licensing process. It’s more, to me, about the way the city is handling everybody. I think it’s unfair in a lot of ways. It doesn’t matter if I have a part in the store, I’m still a patient and I want nice stores.”
Barron further claimed Rakowski failed to file permits or adhere to licensing requirements for his business. State records indicate Rakowski is the legal registrant of corporation. Any previous issues with permits have been fixed, Swope said.
“I still beg to differ,” Barron said in response. One of the forms he said Rakowski failed to file was to do business as Bradly’s Home and Garden.
So, Barron claimed he has filed one himself with Ingham County as … Bradly’s Home and Garden.