Source: Sherman Publications

Medical marijuana dispensary debacle

by David Fleet

August 17, 2011

It has been almost three years since Michigan voters approved the Michigan Medical Marijiuna Act and still the debate rages on over how those who need the drug obtain it in many communities throughout the state. The swirling controversy prompted Atlas, Brandon and Groveland townships, along with the villages of Goodrich and Ortonville, to pass sweeping moratoriums on marijuana dispensaries until lawmakers can hammer out a plan that balances state and federal regulations.

Until government officials can figure out what to do, patients like Brandon Township resident Robert Therrien, 56, who utilizies medical marijuana to relieve pain, continue to contend with the availability issue.

A Detroit native, Therrien enlisted in the Army at 17-years-old. He completed his basic training at Ft. Knox, Ky., and began his tour in Nha Trang on the south central coast of Vietnam. His duty was to rescue downed pilots after they crashed in the demilitarized zone

In 1973, Therrien was in a bunker when it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). He was evacuated and over the next several months recovered in a variety of medical facilities. Therrien was admitted to Great Lakes Naval Hospital and discharged from the Army in 1975. As a result of the RPG, Therrien still suffers from injuries which include constant blood clots in his legs, even while on blood thinner. He was also exposed to Agent Orange, one of several defoliants used by the U.S. throughout southeast Asia.

“Due to the Agent Orange I now have diabetes. In addition, I have an open trachea, not to mention extra holes all over my body from shrapnel,” he said.

Therrien’s disability was delayed for many years after a fire destroyed his military records.

“About 15 years ago, Senator Don Riegle took my case and within 25 days I had my records. However, at that point my case had been closed. Eventually, I received 90 percent of my disability and was unable to work. I can walk a little, but most of the time I’m confined to a wheelchair,” he said.

Therrien has been on a variety of medications including methadone for severe pain.

“Some of the medication was mind-altering—I was not a good person when I received these drugs.”

On Nov. 4, 2008, Michigan voters approved by 63 percent the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act providing patients like Therrien a means to legally obtain the drug. The law went into effect Dec. 4, 2008.

According to the state regulation, patients may possess up to two and one-half (2.5) ounces of usable marijuana and 12 marijuana plants kept in an enclosed, locked facility. The 12 plants may be kept by the patient only if he or she has not specified a primary caregiver to cultivate the marijuana for him or her.

Soon after the law was passed, Therrien went to a clinic in Southfield and obtained a license for medical marijuana. He also notified the township that he was going to be using the product at his home.

“Three years later, I’m doing much better. Since then my quality of life is far better,” he said. “I’m more tolerable. I’m a lot better person. Now my other medications have been reduced to just Vicodin.”

Therrien’s wife grows the marijuana plants for him.

“The 2.5 ounces is sufficient for me,” he said. “The law works except I’m still charged fees for growing and using marijuana.”

Therrien believes the dispensaries should be out of the question for the state.

“This does not mean people should make a big profit,” he said. “Marijuana cost me about $30 per ounce to grow—not the $300 per ounce they are selling it for.”

Not everyone agrees with Therrien regarding making medical marijuana available.

Southfield attorney Michael Komorn, who serves on the board of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, said dispensaries are needed and play a vital role in the community.

“Whether you believe in medical marijuana or not, there is a need for this medicine. Patients can have and deserve options. If the community is really seeking to implement this law and make it work, they need to look to the medical marijuana community for guidance. People want to have dispensaries, the criticism of this law is unfair.”

“I recognize the concerns and negativity of having dispensaries in the community, but consider, too, that not every patient has the means to grow marijuana in their home like Therrien. Not everyone is going to catch on to the cultivation of plants. It may take several tries to get it to grow. How do growers get started? Where do they go for resources?”

Komorn said the quality of marijuana and type are also a concern.

“What if the patient does not want to smoke marijuana? They may want a higher level of satisfaction and the processing of the plant is very important. It’s these procedures that a dispensary and those working there can help with. It’s a place that sick people can interact.”

“The bottom line is patients should not have to get marijuana in a Burger King parking lot,” he said. “If you really truly recognize the needs of the community, a safe place to interact is essential.”

Atlas Township Planning Commission Chairman Rick Misek said the moratorium will stay until lawmakers are more definitive.

“We are going to have the intent of the state medical marijuana law,” said Misek. “But we are not going to have marijuana stores. When you start selling in these stores it’s open for abuse. That would allow more people to use marijuana. It’s a mind-bending drug, but in the case of one caregiver growing enough for five people there’s no problem.”