Dispensaries and overages

By Andy Balaskovitz

The Supreme Court's effect on Lansing dispensaries and pending legislation to give them hope

It’s shortly after noon on Monday, and a young man likely in his 20s or 30s is making a purchase at Alternative Medicine in Lansing. Fifty dollars is exchanged for a few grams of medical marijuana. Business as usual?

“Of course,” Alternative Medicine owner Matt McGill said. “We have the same services we’ve always had.”

McGill declined to comment further about his business model. Behind the counter at Alternative Medicine, 930 E. Mt. Hope Ave., is a list of several cannabis strains in stock and their prices. It was one of at least two dispensaries in the Lansing area that was still selling marijuana after a Feb. 8 state Supreme Court decision that ruled dispensaries were illegal in a case involving one in Mount Pleasant.

“The (Michigan Medical Marihuana Act) does not contemplate patient-to-patient sales of marijuana,” the majority opinion said in the McQueen case, named after one of the owners of Compassionate Apothecary in Mount Pleasant.

Most dispensaries in Lansing and elsewhere stopped selling marijuana to registered patients and caregivers in 2011 after the state Appeals Court ruled dispensaries were illegal.

Of nine area dispensaries, at least two — Alternative Medicine and Green Market, 4708 Okemos Road in Okemos — were still selling it, despite the Supreme Court ruling upholding the Appeals Court.

Four (Star Buds at 2012 N. Larch St.; Helping Hands at 4100 S. Cedar St.; CA of Lansing at 2201 E. Michigan Ave.; and The Herbal Connection at 4314 S. Cedar St.) said they have stopped selling medicine. Owners of three dispensaries — HydroWorld/Your Healthy Choice Clinic and Green Leaf Clinic, both in south Lansing, and Mid-Michigan Patient’s Group at 3826 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. — could not be reached for comment on whether they still sold marijuana.

An employee at Green Market in Okemos described the business as a “caregiver-to-patient” network but denied it is a “dispensary.” The law permits caregivers to grow pot for up to five patients at a time. She said information on the business’s website indicating it’s a dispensary is inaccurate and declined to comment further on the business model.

Others said they’re not risking potential litigation. Star Buds Owner Susan Bollman said her business stopped selling medical marijuana to patients in light of the McQueen ruling. Star Buds has remained open, though, to offer certifications from an in-house physician, merchandise and educational materials related to the law.

“We’re not selling medication until something happens with the law,” she said. “We intend to fully comply with the law.”

Bollman said patients have come in since the ruling “extremely upset” and at times crying. Star Buds stopped selling medical marijuana for seven months after the appellate court ruling in August 2011 for the same reason it stopped again. Since then, Star Buds sold to patients and caregivers with valid, state-issued cards before the Supreme Court decision.

Attorney Matt Abel, whose law firm specializes in medical marijuana, said the “Supreme Court took the most narrow interpretation possible.”

“The only business model that still can exist is quite limited,” he said. “A caregiver may only sell to their five licensed patients. … It has a serious effect on patients’ ability to get medicine.”

The overage problem

Another consequence of the Supreme Court’s decision applies to growers: What do they do now with excess medicine, or more product than their patients can legally possess that caregivers would otherwise sell to dispensaries?

“They ask: ‘Now what do I do?’ I don’t know. You can only sell to your patients,” Bollman said, adding that she worked only with “a couple” of caregivers on overages.

“As a caregiver, to maintain and operate a proper facility, I’m dependent on dispensaries to help me out with overages,” said one grower, who asked not to be identified. “Patients don’t consume or purchase enough for me to maintain a grow room.”

The caregiver for five patients, who is also a patient himself, harvests one crop a month, which he said costs about $800 a month in utilities and grow supplies.

“It’s quite complex to produce high quality medical marijuana,” he said.

‘The bill’

If there’s hope for dispensary owners and caregivers, it’s in House Bill 4271. Republican House member Mike Callton introduced it on Tuesday. The bill, co-sponsored by eight Democrats and eight Republicans, calls for allowing municipalities to regulate “provisioning centers” and testing facilities — or ban them. Provisioning centers are defined as “a commercial entity located in this state that acquires, possesses, cultivates, manufactures, delivers, transfers, or transports medical marihuana and sells, supplies, or dispenses medical marihuana to registered qualifying patients, directly or through the patients’ registered primary caregivers.” It prevents them from being within 1,000 feet of schools and sharing offices with physicians. It also requires them to have security systems and label products with weight and a warning label. The bill prohibits advertising on television, billboards or radio and employing certain felons or anyone under 21, the bill says. It also requires detailed record keeping of sales and prohibits provisioning centers from referring patients to physicians for “monetary compensation.” It would not amend the state medical marijuana statute and thus wouldn’t require a three-fourths majority to pass.

The bill would allow caregivers to sell their overages to provisioning centers, which in turn could sell it to patients and other caregivers.

There’s hope for HB 4271, said Robin Schneider, legislative liaison for the National Patients Rights Association, who worked on drafting it. Both Republicans and Democrats are “realizing that dispensaries are not dangerous to communities if they’re well regulated,” she said.

Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said on WKAR-FM this week he “very much” likes the idea of a local option.

Dunnings and the prosecutors in the state’s other 82 counties can expect letters from the Attorney General’s Office shortly analyzing the ruling and providing documents to help them file actions against dispensaries, a spokeswoman said.