Court ruling closing dispensaries, clinics across State

By Pat Maurer

Review Correspondent

Many Medical Marihuana Clinics and dispensaries are voluntarily or are being forced to close in the wake of last week’s appeals court decision that ruled activities of a Mt. Pleasant dispensary, Compassionate Apothecary, owned by Brandon McQueen and Matthew Taylor were illegal.

The ruling provides county prosecutors a basis with which to close medical marijuana dispensaries statewide.

Since the ruling, four “clinics” in Clare County were notified that they would have to stop operations because of the ruling by Clare County Prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis.

The four operating clinics in Clare County notified by PA, Michelle Ambrozaitis included the Compassion Center near Farwell owned by Kris Swaffer; the Harrison compassion Clinic in Harrison owned by Janiese Darnell; a Clinic in Farwell owned by Chad Andreas and the Lake Compassion Club owned by Nicole Conrad.

Letters sent by Ambrozaitis included the statement, “Based upon the ruling of this case, it is the position of this office that you are operating in violation of the law. We ask that you cease and desist the operation of your business immediately. Failure to do so will result in legal action.

According to a Saginaw News article August 24, The State Court of appeals overturned a December 16 ruling by Isabella Circuit Judge Paul H. Chamberlain that had ruled the dispensary operated within state law boundaries and should be allowed to continue operations.

Compassionate Apothecary, which operated dispensaries in Traverse City, Mt. Pleasant and Lansing, used a method that allowed certified caregivers to become members at a monthly cost and to rent one of 27 lockers at the Mt. Pleasant site which were used to store marijuana they harvested. Other members could purchase the inventory and Compassionate Apothecary employees, who are also certified caregivers, handled the transactions and collected 20 percent of the sale price.

The court said patient-to-patient sales are not permitted by law and deemed Compassionate Apothecary an “enjoinable public nuisance” and allowing the Isabella County Prosecutor to close the business.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette, in an August 24 press release, praised the ruling from the Michigan Court of Appeals. “This ruling is a huge victory for public safety and Michigan communities struggling with an invasion of pot shops near their schools, homes and churches,” said Schuette. “Today the Court echoed the concerns of law enforcement, clarifying that this law is narrowly focused to help the seriously ill, not the creation of a marijuana free-for-all.”

Clare’s PA, Michelle Ambrozaitis issued a statement August 30 saying, “I respect the decision of the voters of this state who voted for and believe that certain sick people ought to be able to obtain and use marijuana to relieve pain, nausea and other qualifying ailments.” She continued, “I also recognize that the public, when voting for the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, did not decriminalize the use of marijuana generally. It provided a limited exemption for use by truly sick people. The MMMA permits qualifying patients to obtain their marijuana in two ways: to grow it themselves or designate a caregiver through the registry system to grow it for them.”

Ambrozaitis said, “By placing a five-patient limit on caregivers and limiting compensation by caregivers to costs outlined …in the Act, the caregiver’s role is limited to a close, intimate relationship with five patients and does not contemplate large, for profit, business enterprises to supply patients their marijuana.”

She said trial level courts across the state in Ingham County, Oakland County, Kent County and now Isabella County have all rejected claims that the MMMA authorizes dispensaries. “Until the law changes it is the view of this office that if there are still dispensaries operating in the county, they are operating illegally and this office will take legal action to close their doors in accordance with the law.”

Gladwin County Prosecutor Aaron Miller was unavailable for a statement on what that county plans to do.

Janiese Darnell, owner of the Harrison Compassion Clinic, said that Genesee County has not shut any clinics down unless they were not operating under the law.

“We are just waiting it out,” Darnell said Wednesday. “We will attend a Rally (gathering of Medical Marijuana Rights Organizations opposing abuse by the Attorney General) at the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing September 7th at 10 a.m. We are looking for support and will have a caravan beginning at the clinic (3387 North Clare Avenue) at 9 a.m. that day.”

“I think this is a violation of our constitutional right. They (lawmakers) are trying to take away a right given to us by the voters.” She added, “We are a clinic, not a business.”

She said in responding to the prosecutor’s letter that they are now looking at other avenues. “With the way the law is written, we knew this was possible,” she said. “We will keep our storefront and put another business there. We will still have a doctor on site and we will be there for patient consultation.”

“If this ruling is overturned,” she said, “we will continue with the clinic. Our patients need it.”

One of Darnell’s patients is 19-year-old Timothy Sherwood, who lives with the Darnells. Since he was diagnosed at three years old, he has suffered with Myasthenia Gavis, a form of Muscular Dystrophy.

“I think I am one of the only children who has had this disease,” he said. “I wasn’t expected to live past nine years old and was told I was the worst case in the United States.” Until he went into remission in 2007, he said he was confined to a wheelchair. He was on an extensive mixture of powerful drugs including Ritalin, Soma, Vicodin, Xanax, Valium, Flexeril and Methadone three and four times each day, and has had more than 40 operations related to the disease. He now uses medical marijuana and no longer uses any of the drugs. “I can walk again, although I am still weak sometimes. There’s no cure for me, only treatment. Medical marijuana is one of the best treatments I’ve found. I use it in various ways to handle symptoms including chronic pain,” he said. “I don’t want to take all that medicine ever again.”

He said he would like to be a spokesperson for medical marijuana as a treatment for the disease.

Dennis Darnell said Sherwood is a legal patient. “With medical marijuana, people like Tim can function. We operate as a clinic – it’s a private situation, not a business.” He added, “The Mt. Pleasant operation isn’t how most of them operate – it’s not how we operate.”

He continued, “Janiese is a caregiver with five patients, the only ones she can legally take care of. When she takes on a new patient it takes up to four months to grow and process 12 plants. Meantime they have to get medical marijuana from a dispensary or clinic. At our clinic we take donations only. It’s not about selling, it is about donations. The key words are ‘donations only’.”

He added, “Medical marijuana has given him (Sherwood) his life back. We have people coming here every day. All they want is their life back.”

Sherwood said, “Now that the clinic is closed, I have no way to get my meds. We need to let people know what this is doing to people like me.  Just because some people misuse it, it doesn’t mean really sick people should suffer because of it. I don’t know what to do.”

Janiese said she found out that Gladwin County and Houghton Lake are taking a “wait and see” attitude on clinics operating there.

Bay County is home to at least four dispensaries.

In Lansing City Attorney Brig Smith issued a statement reinforcing the court’s ruling and advising dispensaries to cease the commercial sale of medical marijuana to qualifying patients. He said, “…most, if not all of the medical marijuana establishments operating in the City of Lansing (there are at least 48 there) are illegal.”

As of August 25, Jackson area medical marijuana dispensaries had not been shut down. Kalamazoo’s approximately 12 dispensaries will be forced to close according to the Kalamazoo Gazette August 25. The county has 2,211 medical marijuana patients registered, with 833 having registered caregivers assisting them.