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Medical marijuana debate reaches into Orion community

The sheriff had a variety of items -- and a variety of marijuana -- on display. Photo by Laura Colvin (click for larger version)
September 01, 2010 - Marijuana plants large and small were on display at the Oakland County Sheriff's office last week, along with shotguns, handguns, hash oil, electronic scales and boxes, bags and jars of pot – dried-and-ready-to-smoke in varieties like Blueberry, Papaya, Super Skunk, Dirt Weed and Grand Daddy Purp.

Candy, too – bright-colored marijuana lollipops in watermelon, peach, sour apple and grape.

All were confiscated Wednesday in a county-wide sting orchestrated to address what Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard is calling "the abuse of Michigan's Medical Marijuana Exemption."

Two homes in Orion Township were among those the sheriff's Narcotics Enforcement Team (NET) descended on Wednesday.

According to Bouchard, the raid was the spurred by tips about the illegal manufacture, possession and sale of marijuana at Everyday Cafe in Waterford and Clinical Relief in Ferndale.

The Orion homes, as well as locations in other communities, were allegedly connected to the two businesses.

All totaled, 15 people were arrested in the various locations, and some $750,000 in marijuana confiscated, Bouchard said.

"There were many commonalities to what we see in drug houses," he said. "In one case, loose alligators running around protecting the product. This is Michigan, this is not a 'Cheech and Chong' movie."

The alligators, Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe said later, were not discovered in either of the Orion Township homes.

Names and charges of suspects were released Friday.

Matthew Curtis, 39, a Lake Orion resident who lives in the 1200 block of Beach Street, was among those arrested. He was charged with two counts of controlled substance, delivery/manufacture marijuana, and held on $10,000 personal bond.

The "Medical Marihuana Act," approved by Michigan voters on November 4, 2008, went into effect December 4, 2008.

Essentially, the act allows patients with specific, debilitating medical conditions—cancer, glaucoma, or AIDS for example—to use medical marijuana for treatment of those conditions and associated symptoms, such as severe and chronic pain, severe nausea or seizures. And therein, Bouchard said, lies the problem.

"I think most of the voters went to the polls thinking of someone who was in pain, and sick, and they wanted to help them relieve that pain. Many of the people getting (medical marijuana) cards are not what the voters had in mind," he said. "We have uncovered some who have gotten cards because they had stomachaches or sore shoulders."

Voters, Bouchard speculated, also didn't anticipate crime would be circling around a business or in their neighborhood as a result of the act.

In other states with similar laws, he said, as well as in Oakland County, "crime is springing up around these operations."

"California had four murders, two officer-involved shootings, four armed robberies of grow operations, five arsons, and numerous home invasions (related to medical marijuana)," he said.

While Bouchard didn't say he wanted to see the act disappear all together, he did say the law needs to be clarified by state lawmakers.

Bouchard said legislative changes should include a system to determine measurable and consistent dosage, and must protect patients and the public from organized crime, profiteers, substance abusers, and marijuana laced with illegal substances or harmful pesticides.

Law enforcement, he said, should also have the ability to easily verify the validity of a medical marijuana patient by issuing a tamper-proof card with the patient's photo.

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper was anything but ambiguous in her message.

"Marijuana in the state of Michigan is illegal. It's illegal to use it; it's illegal to possess it, to cultivate it, to manufacture it, and to sell it. That's the overriding statute. That statute hasn't changed."

But Cooper did clarify, and carefully detailed differences in Michigan law as compared to other states.

In Michigan, she said, the law is an exemption act, meaning it's illegal to use marijuana except in certain, limited circumstances.

"And in Michigan it is very limited," she said. "It is not the California act, it is not Colorado."

In other words, marijuana has not been "legalized."

It can be used by a qualified patient – the Michigan Department of Community Health determines who's qualified – and that person may only be in possession of 12 plants or less, and or 2.5 ounces of harvested marijuana or less, and those plants have to be maintained in a closed, locked facility.

"A qualified patient can designate one, and only one, caregiver to grow or harvest on his or her behalf," Cooper said. "And here is where we are getting into a quandary: That caregiver may only have a maximum of five designated patients. No more. And he or she may only grow or harvest on behalf of those five designated patients. You cannot sell to anybody but your five designated patients. You cannot sell to anyone who walks in with a card."

Furthermore, she said, the issue has generated much confusion about dispensaries.

"There is no authorization in the statute for dispensaries," she said. "Of the 14 states that have authorized marijuana, when there are dispensaries it is specifically outlined in those statues. It is not outlined in the Michigan statute."

Seven states and Washington D.C. do have medical marijuana exemptions that allow for and regulate dispensaries, she said

"Everybody's looking at the California statutes and the fact that in California, local cities make a vote and decide whether they're going to have dispensaries or not. I pick up the paper and I hear about these huge debates going on in local communities and I'm going 'What is it you're debating about? Would you like to look at the statute?"

Meanwhile, patients and caregivers claim their rights are being violated. Watch the Review for the other side of the story.

Lake Orion Review Editor
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