Medical Marijuana Spurring Cottage Industry in Michigan

December 21, 2009 — Michigan voters’ approval last year of a law permitting medical marijuana use in the state has created a fledging cottage industry of marijuana growers and a growing number of patients who want a share of their crop.

Since Michigan issued rules in April for the distribution of medical marijuana, state health officials, law enforcement and zoning officials have struggled to adjust to a legal industry that is rapidly evolving out of an illegal enterprise.

One of those new entrepreneurs is David Overholt, who has great hopes for the marijuana he is growing in the basement of his Montcalm County farmhouse.

Overholt told The Grand Rapids Press that the new law has created business opportunities for people who see marijuana as an alternative to traditional pills and painkillers.

“We’re bringing structure and order to an industry that has none,” he told the newspaper.

Overholt, a Gulf War veteran, said he smokes marijuana to replace narcotic painkillers in the aftermath of seven back surgeries.

Meanwhile, state and local officials are trying to adjust. At the center is of it all is Celeste Clarkson, manager of the Compliance Section of the state’s Community Health Department’s Bureau of Health Professions.

Her office keeps the register of legal patients and growers.

As of Nov. 11, Clarkson’s office had received 11,517 applications, an average of 69 a day since the rules went into effect April 6. To date, the office has issued 6,439 patient registrations and 2,686 caregiver registrations.

Clarkson said a caregiver can be registered only if they have at least one patient or are a patient themselves. The state law allows each caregiver no more than five patients, and no more than 12 plants per patient.

While the law allows caregivers to be paid for their costs associated with assisting their patients, they cannot sell marijuana, Clarkson said. The cost of growing marijuana is not set, but determined by the caregiver and patient, she said.

Six Lakes resident Toney Smith said marijuana has allowed him to reduce his intake of Vicodin and Neurontin for pain brought on by arthritis and three “blown” discs in his back.

Smith, who said he smokes two joints every evening, recently obtained his medical marijuana registration card.

He works as a maintenance man at a Remus manufacturing company, and said his employer knows about his alternative treatment. He does not smoke before work or during the work day.

“I want to do everything legal,” he said. “That’s the whole purpose.”

While Michigan’s law requires patients to get a recommendation before they may register, federal law prohibits doctors from prescribing marijuana.

Although federal agencies still consider marijuana an illegal narcotic, the Obama administration recently announced it would not pursue medical marijuana growers who abide by their state’s laws.

When Montcalm County Sheriff ’s deputies responded to a burglar alarm at Overholt’s farmhouse in October and found his marijuana plants, they thought they were onto a crime scene, Undersheriff William Burden said. Then, Overholt showed up and flashed his registration card. Burden said Overholt had 17 plants, when he only was authorized to have 12.

“They seized five plants from him, which put him into compliance, and reported it to the prosecutor’s office, which made a decision not to pursue charges,” he said. Source.

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