Michigan: Cities Rush to Limit Medical Marijuana

January 30, 2010 – Christopher Frizzo of Royal Oak said marijuana helps him battle symptoms of Picture 10his multiple sclerosis.

But during a routine traffic stop Jan. 11, police took his medical marijuana and refused to return it, said Frizzo, 47.

Although he was approved by the state to use medical marijuana, he didn’t register for a state-approved caregiver to be his supplier, Frizzo admitted. His state registration card is stamped “No Caregiver.”

When the cop saw that, he had to seize Frizzo’s seven grams of grass — roughly seven cigarettes’ worth — “or we’re legitimizing an illegal drug purchase,” City Attorney Dave Gillam said. Frizzo said he got the drug from a licensed caregiver, but not from anyone he’d named in his state paperwork.

The dispute highlights one of the ways local governments are struggling to deal with Michigan’s new law on medicinal marijuana. Another dispute has communities across metro Detroit debating whether to pass local ordinances on who can dispense medical marijuana, and where.

The law has led to “disagreements all across the state,” Michigan Department of Community Health spokesman James McCurtis said.

“The law needs changes,” Frizzo said.

Communities seek to regulate marijuana

Communities in Michigan are passing or considering zoning changes and ordinances to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana from within their borders.

Livonia passed an ordinance last fall. Grosse Pointe and Huntington Woods did so this month. Clawson, Royal Oak and Hazel Park are drafting ordinances.

The state’s medical marijuana law, overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2008, is vague on where and how state-approved providers of the drug — called caregivers — can dispense marijuana to state-certified patients.

“I suspect over the coming months, virtually every city will pass some type of ordinance” on marijuana, Huntington Woods City Manager Alex Allie said.

Many local officials said it is imperative to get something on the books that regulates or bans dispensaries, a term in other states for shops that sell marijuana to anyone approved for using it as medicine.

Michigan’s act does not mention dispensaries, and the Michigan Department of Community Health, in a statement last week, said “it is illegal to operate a marijuana dispensary here.”

The number of people who want to use marijuana for medical purposes — and are required to get a doctor’s approval — is swelling. More than 7,000 patients and 3,000 caregivers — those licensed to grow marijuana for patients — have registered with Lansing.

What some call Michigan’s first dispensary began selling pot this month in Ypsilanti.

But operator Anthony Freed, founder and CEO of the Michigan Marijuana Chamber of Commerce, calls it “a compassion center.” He compared it to a private club.

“We had our first 100 patients within five hours with no advertising,” Freed, 31, of Brooklyn, Mich., said Friday.

Livonia has prohibited dispensaries, though City Attorney Don Knapp said cities don’t want to stop legitimate users from alleviating their suffering.

“There are physicians advertising for patients just to approve them for using marijuana,” Knapp said.

Huntington Woods’ ordinance, passed Jan. 19, forbids dispensaries and regulates caregivers, case by case.

“Basically, we will allow what the state allows for an individual cultivating this in their own house, for their own use,” Allie said.

The ordinances someday will be challenged in state courts, said Detroit lawyer Matthew Abel, who said he specializes in advising caregivers of their rights.

Ordinances in Livonia and other cities amount to “a paranoid attempt to keep out all illegal drugs while stifling the legitimate medical use of marijuana,” Abel said.


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