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Village shuts down med. marijuana biz before doors open



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Kind Tree owners (from left) Matt Dankovich, Nick Longo, Billy Szabo and Zach Lorenzen are trying to open their medical marijuana business in Oxford Village. Photo by CJC. (click for larger version)
July 21, 2010 - Oxford's very first medical marijuana business was shut down by village officials before it could even open July 14.

Approximately an hour and 15 minutes prior to opening their doors, the owners of The Kind Tree: An Organic Wellness Center, located at 109 N. Washington St., were told by village Manager Joe Young they had to stay closed for now.

Young informed them they can't conduct business here because they hadn't filed the appropriate paperwork with the municipality and their type of business is not permitted at this point because it's not specifically addressed in the zoning ordinance.

The Kind Tree's business is selling medical marijuana to registered patients. Matt Dankovich, one of the four owners and a state-registered primary caregiver and patient, insisted the business is not a dispensary, it's a "collective."

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"We only sell to our primary patients," he explained. "We're not having secondary sales like a dispensary. Basically, it's a primary caregiving facility."

Secondary sales are transactions where the seller and buyer do not have a state-registered relationship as a primary caregiver and qualifying patient.

Dankovich, who grew up in Lake Orion and lives there now, noted secondary sales are "technically illegal under the state law."

Under state law, registered medical marijuana patients may obtain their drug from those they specifically designate as their primary caregivers, who must also be registered with the state.

Each primary caregiver can assist up to five registered patients and is allowed to cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants per patient.

In return, patients are legally allowed to compensate their primary caregivers. This is what would happen at The Kind Tree, according to the owners.

"The state law allows us to legally do this," Dankovich said. "We want more clarity through the village of why this isn't allowed (in Oxford). There is nothing that says we can't do it."

Why the shutdown?

Young told Kind Tree owners they couldn't open for two reasons.

One, they had not filed a zoning compliance application with the village and paid the $50 registration fee.

Every new business in the village is required to submit this form so it can be determined if the proposed use meets zoning ordinance requirements. If the use conforms, a certificate of occupancy is then issued by the village.

"I explained to them you can't legally open because you don't have a permit for anything yet," Young said.

Dankovich said he and his partners – Billy Szabo, Zach Lorenzen and Nick Longo – were unaware they had to file such an application with the village.

"We kind of got a little too eager and kind of jumped the gun a little bit," he said. "We put up a sign before we fully completed all of our research."

Young's second reason was the village zoning ordinance is silent on the issue of medical marijuana.

"I've already advised them that right now our ordinance does not permit or prohibit medical marijuana," Young said. "They cannot sell medical marijuana because it's not permitted anywhere (with regard to zoning). It's not prohibited obviously because of the (state) law, but it's also not permitted (in the village zoning ordinance)."

A July 1 memo from the village's planner, McKenna Associates, Inc., echoed Young's statements – "At this time, medical marijuana uses are not permitted in Oxford because the zoning ordinance does not specifically address them."

Given what state law allows, Dankovich can't understand how the village can keep his business from operating.

"If there's nothing (in the zoning ordinance) that says we can't do it and state law allows caregivers to provide patients with medicine for compensation, why are we not allowed to do that? That's our big question," he said. "There is nothing, technically, legally that is prohibiting us from providing to our patients. We aren't breaking any laws or ordinances at this current time."

Dankovich said there are caregivers currently dispensing medical marijuana from residential homes in the village, yet the municipality isn't shutting them down.

"The Village of Oxford is saying even if we were in a residential house, it still would be technically deemed illegal, although there are people in the village that live here, who are caregivers receiving compensation," he said. "We don't understand how the other caregivers in the village are allowed to do this business."

Dankovich believes it's because the village doesn't know specific locations and lacks the resources for enforcement.

"It seems like we're being targeted because we've come forth with an actual location," he said.

Taking it to the planning commission

The village planning commission is expected to discuss the medical marijuana issue at its 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3 meeting in the village council chambers (22 W. Burdick St.).

"This is something new that hasn't been covered before, so we need to know where we want to put it," Young said.

In its July 1 memo, McKenna Associates outlined three options for the planning commission – 1) prohibiting medical marijuana businesses; 2) allowing and regulating them; and 3) allowing it as a home occupation

"McKenna Associates does not recommend waiting to make a determination on how to proceed because the impacts of doing nothing could negatively impact neighborhoods, schools and business districts," the memo stated. "The safest approach at this time is to not allow medical marijuana uses and to adopt a moratorium until the village can enact sufficient regulations."

Just last week, the Oxford Township Board adopted a 120-day moratorium on medical marijuana facilities (see Page 5).

Dankovich and his partners plan to be at the Aug. 3 meeting to offer their insights.

"We are going to be attending that meeting and providing our input as to what we think would be good ways to regulate the industry," he said.

What's inside The Kind Tree?

If and when The Kind Tree is allowed to open, Dankovich said they will sell five different strains of medical marijuana – Hash Bomb, G-13, Northern Lights #5 crossed with White Widow, Bubble Gum and Kush Berry.

Each strain has particular qualities that help alleviate different symptoms.

"One is for nighttime to help people who can't sleep," explained Longo. "One is more for daytime. You can function on it, go to work."

Dankovich noted all of the marijuana will be grown off-site. All of the strains will be sold for $20 per gram.

The Kind Tree plans to sell pre-rolled joints for $6 (half-gram) and $8 (0.7-gram).

But smoking isn't the only way to use medical marijuana. That's why The Kind Tree plans to sell a whole line of foods laced with medical marijuana including cookies, brownies, fudge and candy.

No one will be allowed to smoke or ingest medical marijuana on the premises.

"You come here, you pick it up, you bring it home and you do it in private. You don't do it here at all," Lorenzen said. "It's illegal to operate a motor vehicle afterwards. We don't want to permit people to smoke on our premises and then drive home in their car."

Dankovich indicated the business will take many precautions to keep everything legal such as having patients sign agreements stating they won't drive under the influence or re-sell marijuana purchased at The Kind Tree to others.

They also plan to have all their products bear labels indicating they're not for resale and should be kept out of the reach of children. Foods will be clearly labeled so there's no confusing a regular cookie with a medicinal one.

Security-wise, the building has multiple exterior and interior video surveillance cameras. The front-door will remain locked unless a customer is allowed to enter via a push-button-activated system. People will not be able to just walk in off the street.

No cannabis for now

Depending on how long the zoning ordinance issue takes, Dankovich said The Kind Tree might initially open selling only its other products and services, which include "vitamins, mineral supplements and massage therapy."

Young indicated that would be just fine.

"They can sell their other products, but not the medical marijuana yet," he said.

Dankovich said they submitted a new zoning compliance application sans the medical marijuana.

That application is currently under review.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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