Michigan Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Close Up Shop After Court Ruling

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Thursday was a bad day to be among Michigan's nearly 100,000 medical marijuana patients and down to a last joint.

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Many marijuana dispensaries closed their shops to pot sales, on lawyers' advice, following a court of appeals ruling.

"It would be dangerous to operate with the specter of a criminal case hanging over our head," said John Lewis, lawyer for Compassionate Apothecary in Mt. Pleasant, the center of the marijuana maelstrom.

On Tuesday, a unanimous panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the dispensary's business model of charging clients a fee to store marijuana that could be sold to any registered patient was illegal. The ruling was a blow to the burgeoning medical marijuana business and its patients.

Richard Celmer, 46, of Chesterfield Township went without marijuana to ease pain from his stomach cancer Thursday because the Big Daddy's dispensary in the township stopped selling medical marijuana Wednesday.

Celmer uses the dispensary when his regular caregiver can't meet his needs. "When I do need medicine, this is where I come," he said.

Raids, closings leave medical marijuana patients in a bind

Four pounds of dried marijuana, cookies, cupcakes and other pot-bearing confections were loaded into a black SUV while employees and an owner of the MedMar A2 Compassionate Health Care dispensary were led away in handcuffs Thursday.

"We didn't get a letter -- we got a bunch of agents. They came in here and stripped everything," said Chuck Ream, president of the marijuana dispensary that was targeted in a police raid after a far-reaching court ruling late Tuesday against Michigan's burgeoning medical marijuana business.

He said about 750 patients who come to his business for their marijuana are now without medicine.

"Everyone who gets sick doesn't have an old hippie to grow marijuana," he said.

Around Michigan, county prosecutors and dispensaries responded to the ruling and the warnings from Attorney General Bill Schuette thatlaw enforcement would be pursuing medical marijuana dispensaries. Many of the nascent businesses shut down marijuana sales as a precaution.

"I have a building full of patients today," said Rick Ferris, president of the Michigan Association of Compassionate Centers, referring to Big Daddy's in Chesterfield Township, where people can buy paraphernalia and growing materials, but not marijuana itself. "My business is open, except in that regard."

The company has five dispensaries in southeast Michigan.

Others decided their business model would stand the legal test, including 3rd Coast Compassion Center in Ypsilanti. Owner Jamie Lowell runs his center as a nonprofit, fee-based membership club that relies on donations.

Marijuana Patient Cop

"We're still trying to digest the implications of this ruling. We're not convinced that it completely eliminates dispensaries," he said.

Schuette will speak to prosecutors about the decision this weekend on Mackinac Island, said spokeswoman Joy Yearout. His focus will be how to prosecute offenders using a nuisance-abatement clause.

But in Isabella County, prosecutor Larry Burdick made his intentions clear, said Brandon McQueen, co-owner of Compassionate Apothecary.

"You must immediately cease such operations," said McQueen, reading from a letter Burdick's office sent Wednesday to at least six dispensaries.

The case that led to the appellate court ruling began at the Mt. Pleasant dispensary. The circuit court ruled that the operation didn't violate the law voters overwhelmingly approved in 2008.

Co-owner Matthew Taylor said the store stopped selling marijuana. He and McQueen are preparing an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Matthew Newburg, who will represent them, said he counseled Lansing-area clients to close up "until the Supreme Court issues a different opinion or there is new legislation." Along Michigan Avenue in Lansing on Wednesday, many dispensaries were closed, the Lansing State Journal said.

Clarifications to the 2008 medical marijuana law will be submitted in the fall legislative session.

Jessica Cooper, the Oakland County prosecutor, said she didn't know of any dispensaries open in the county. Detroit police steered clear of raids, and Kym Worthy, the Wayne County prosecutor, issued no cease-and-desist letters, spokeswoman Maria Miller said. Eric Smith, Macomb County's prosecutor, did not return calls seeking comment.

Michigan Medical Marijuana

In other counties, prosecutors said they would wait to see which dispensaries stayed open and which ones police identified as troublesome.

Chris Becker, assistant prosecutor in Kent County, said he was hopeful dispensaries would close on their own. Alan Schneider, Grand Traverse County prosecutor, said he would wait to hear from police.

But where card-carrying patients who rely on dispensaries will get their medical marijuana is unclear.

"No dear, we have been completely raided today," Donna Paridee told a caller seeking marijuana Thursday at MedMar A2 Compassionate Health Care.

BY CECIL ANGEL, MEGHA SATYANARAYANA, JOHN WISELY, DAWSON BELL AND BILL LAITNER

DETROIT FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS

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