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The next meeting of the Holland Club is this coming Thursday, Oct 14, at 7PM.

 

DIRECTIONS

 

From Holland, go north on US 31 to West Olive. Go past Port Sheldon St. The first street after Port Sheldon (which has a traffic light) is Blair (which has no traffic light and no visible street sign. The best landmark to look for is a fairly large sign on the east side of US 31 in blue letters that reads “Blueberry Heritage Farms”. This sign can also be clearly seen when driving southbound to Holland. If you’re coming from Holland going north, do not drive passed this sign. Turn immediately before the sign. Turn right, heading east. Immediately after turning right onto Blair St, turn right again (south) onto Blair Lane (a paved private road). Go down this road 1000 feet to the row of 5 cottages. Go about ½ way between the first cottage and the last (6654 Blair Lane). Look for the Holland CCC sign on the yellow house.

 

The primary item on the agenda is discussion of the direction the club is moving. Read the following letter that will be sent out to local officials in the coming days. This will explain it.

 

As always, I appreciate any feedback.

 

 

Kurt, Director the HollandCCC

 

LETTER TO OFFICIALS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT

REGARDING MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN WEST OLIVE

 

Authored by Kurt Volbeda

Executive Director, the Holland Compassionate Care Community. Hollandccc.org

616-396-4959

With special thanks to Michael Komorn Law

3000 Town Center, Suite, 1800

Southfield, MI 48075

248-351-2200

Mission Statement of the HollandCCC

 

The goal of the Holland Compassionate Care Community is to be an organized group of individuals who, regardless of our diversity, strive to accept and transcend our differences. We strive to communicate openly but with civility and deep regard for one another’s dignity. As a result, we feel an unusual sense of safety amongst ourselves and are able to engage in effective discussions and act together productively toward our common mission: to educate Michigan residents and doctors about the science and medical value of cannabis; to fight injustice, as we are able, against medical marijuana patients and to work at expanding their rights; to offer support, help, care and camaraderie to each other and to anyone interested in participating with us but especially to persons in our midst whose health well-being is enhanced through the lawful, safe and efficacious use of cannabis.

 

As the executive director of our club, I represent the HollandCCC. The views presented herein generally represent the views of the club, comprised of about 55 members so far.

________________________________________________________________________

 

October 8, 2010

 

To whom it may concern:

 

By this letter, we want to inform officials of our club’s presence and activity in West Olive. Because medical marijuana continues to be controversial, we desire to engage local officials and law enforcement in meaningful communication in ways that serve the interests of all concerned parties.

 

In 2008, voters approved a ballot initiative called “the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA) that decriminalizes the use of marijuana for medical purposes. It passed by a large margin of 63% of all voters. Currently, there are more than 22,000 registered patients and 9,000 registered caregivers. These numbers are expected to surge into the near future.

 

In the interest of brevity, we refrain from rebutting all the bad arguments against the use of marijuana (mj) for medical purposes, such as the sly argument that wrongly lumps the harm of mj with hard drugs that are abused that have far more serious consequences, such as alcohol, cigarettes, crack cocaine and the like. Scientific research clearly shows that in relation to other common drugs, the potential harms associated with mj are mild. In the vast majority of cases, its medicinal benefits far outweigh its adverse, soft risks.

 

In order for mutual understanding to exist, different parties involved with mmj need to be defined.

 

1. Dispensaries. The common use of the word “dispensary” in states where medical marijuana has been decriminalized refers to a for profit business that dispenses medical marijuana (mmj) to any card holding patient. The word “dispense” ought not to be used in relation to state registered mmj caregivers because this word casts a misleading connotation upon them. Caregivers are individual persons who provide a wide variety of medical marijuana services for patients, which covers far more than just “dispensing” medicine. In addition, the MMMA states persons may not sell medical marijuana or make a profit over and above costs for compensation. Therefore, California-style store-front dispensaries are illegal in Michigan.

 

2. Cooperatives and collectives are not for profit businesses that limit services strictly to their own, screened members, both patients and caregivers. Everything stays strictly in-house. Cooperative are a group of state-registered patients and caregivers that have formally banded together to engage in communal activities at a central location they are not trying to keep hidden from public view. We want to briefly discuss cooperative so that the distinction between such businesses and compassion clubs, including ours, is clear.

 

Cooperatives have been springing up throughout the state, perhaps 30 to date. Regarding cooperatives, two key questions need to be discussed: 1) Why are they springing up? 2) Are coops lawful entities? First, why are cooperatives springing up throughout the state? This is a key question, because the answer is crucial for developing a proper understanding of the dynamics that create a need for them. Cooperatives are springing up throughout the state because they provide a variety of key supplemental mmj services that are in very strong demand by patients. Simple as that.

 

You see, marijuana used as medicine is affected by a unique set of circumstances that characterize no other medication. The unusual state of affairs that characterizes medical marijuana also explains why so many compassion clubs and many cooperatives are springing up throughout the state. These organizations aid patients and caregivers in all manner of key ways. They offer critical forms of support not required for any other medicine.

 

Specifically, the primary dynamic that sets medical marijuana apart that contributes to the demand for the additional services that cooperatives provide concern its inconsistent and limited forms of supply. Everyone in the mmj community knows that the patient/caregiver system provided for by the MMMA does not eliminate all problems associated with creating a reliable, diverse supply of medicine for patients. Coops fill in the supply gaps by providing wide strain choices (of which there are hundreds, some having slightly different medicinal effects). Cooperatives also provide a far wider variety of forms in which mmj can be administered than most caregivers can provide (which again have different medicinal effects), such as edibles, tinctures and lotions. Coops also meet a variety of other basic needs patients and caregivers have that the MMMA does not provide for. The MMMA, for example, does not create a way to buy seeds legally to start plants, another example of the MMMA’s many shortcomings. In a coop, members supply seeds and clones to each other to start plants, seeds and clones that are produced by members.

 

Second, are coops lawful entities? What are the grounds for them in the law? In order for a cooperative to function, it obviously needs a supply of medicine. Member patients and caregivers provide this supply. Now the question is, does the MMMA protect patients and caregivers when they transfer mmj to persons they are not directly connected to through the MMMP? The answer leads to a sharp parting of the ways. One view holds, if the act intended to allow patient-to-patient transfers, it should have expressly stated so. It doesn’t; therefore, they are ruled out. The other view holds the act’s plain language does permit them. Section 4(b) states that patients are protected for the medical use of mj. “Medical use” is defined as including the acquisition, deliver or transfer of mj. When transferring medicine, both are engaged in its medical use and are protected.

 

The section called the Affirmative Defense, which applies to both patients and caregivers who are connected to each other through the MMMP and to those who are not, also suggests that transfers are protected. The scope of the AD is very broad. Indeed, the AD covers persons who may not even be officially registered with the state yet. According to the AD (333.26428 Defenses. 8. Affirmative Defense and Dismissal for Medical Marihuana) a patient or a caregiver is protected when,

 

(3) The patient and the patient's primary caregiver, if any, were engaged in the acquisition, possession, cultivation, manufacture, use, delivery, transfer, or transportation of marihuana or paraphernalia relating to the use of marihuana to treat or alleviate the patient's serious or debilitating medical condition or symptoms of the patient's serious or debilitating medical condition.

Stated in abreviated form, this section reads: a patient is protected when the patient . . . engaged in the . . . transfer . . . of marihuana . . . . A cooperative recieves mmj only from state registered patients and caregivers who are screened members of the coop. The coop then transfers the mmj to any patient who is a member (but never to non-members).

 

It is true that this reading of the law has not been authoritatively declared correct by higher courts. As a result, transfers are a marginal legal concept. Consequently, we are not asking for approval to engage in transfers. Instead, we ask for officials and law enforcement to exercise their powers of discretion when it comes to transfers.

 

To this end, we want to discuss the issue of transfers in further detail.

 

Some persons in law enforcement frown on expanding the availability of mmj and reject the idea of transfers all together. For example, Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney Byron Konschuh views patient-to-patient transfers “akin to a patient giving or selling a prescribed drug like Vicodin to another patient,” which is illegal. Sounds plausible. Yet, that analogy is unfair and falls apart upon informed analysis. Notice that this argument assumes Vicodin and mmj are comparable in some key ways, for example, that the supply of each is stable, constant and readily available to all persons allowed to use it. But as anyone involved with medical marijuana knows, this state of affairs stands far from the truth. As mentioned, despite the intent of the MMMA to make marijuana available to those who qualify, the fact remains that their supply is often insufficiently diverse, prone to disruption and sometimes totally unavailable, due to a variety of reasons we will not delve into here.

 

The key to constructing a just approach to medical marijuana is understanding that it’s a unique medicinal drug unlike any other. For instance, understanding the history of marijuana and its medicinal use in the USA opens a person’s eyes to how different this history is from all other drugs used for health benefits. No other medicine has endured the irrational, biased fate of mj. In addition, the means by which the supply of medical marijuana is generated has no relation whatsoever to any other drug regulated by the FDA, like Vicodin, that is mass-produced by large pharmaceutical companies. Lacking proper understanding that marijuana is a medicinal drug in a unique category all its own fails to produce a balanced view of mmj and the activities that occur in the mmj community. Transfers occur in the mmj community because many patients cannot supplement their supply in any other way. Their medicinal needs and the demand that this need creates cannot be eradicated. Furthermore, to deny patients needed, supplemental mmj services is to diminish their health well-being and human dignity.

 

Some law enforcement officials argue that persons who engage in transfers are really just criminals wanting to make money by hiding behind the MMMA in a way that voters never contemplated. However, the legality of transfers remains an open question till courts rule. But a more significant point needs to be considered: transfers are not at the root of the problem. Transfers would not be occurring in the first place if no supply problems existed. Supply is at the root of the problem. Law enforcement might consider transfers illegal, but that will never eradicate the demand that fuels transfers. Outlawing transfers does not address the root of the problem and will accomplish nothing. That reality is what needs to be addressed.

 

Previously, the Michigan State Police held the position that patient-to-patient transfers were illegal. However, not long ago, MSP officer Greg Zarotney, who is responsible for providing information on enforcement policy to state police posts was directly asked, “Does your interpretation of the MMMA allow for patient-to-patient transfers of marijuana?” He answered, “The definition of ‘medical use’ is straightforward [in the MMMA] in that it clearly allows for the acquisition, possession, delivery and transfer of marijuana . . . Sixty three percent of the people passed this law, and law enforcement must accept the fact that the law is here to stay, and we have to work within the law’s confines” (the Midwest Cultivator, summer issue, 2010, p 3.).

 

Regarding the proper approach to the interpretation of the MMMA, we note the following comments by Attorney General Mike Cox in response to a question from the Michigan Department of Community Health asking for clarification about the statute. He stated, after conducting an inquiry into ballot initiatives, “The Michigan Court of Appeals has explained that ballot initiatives should be ‘liberally construed to effectuate their purposes’” [Welch Foods v Attorney General, 213 Mich. App. 459, 461; 540 NW2d 693 (1995)]. “To the extent that the initiative contains any ambiguity, it must be construed in light of the purpose of the initiative.” Id. at 462. In our view, the overriding purpose of the MMMA is to create safe havens where patients and caregivers are protected from arrest and prosecution so that persons who are helped by mmj can get the medicine they need.

 

It is true that the MMMA opens the door to abuse, because it allows little outside monitoring of patients or caregivers. At the same time, it’s also true that the vast majority of persons in the mmj community are committed to preventing abuse and crime. Previously, our club took a very strong stance regarding an individual whose contemporary public reputation and past criminal history indicated questionable compliance with mmj law. We informed this person that, for the sake of the broader mmj community and its interests, we wanted him to stop providing all mmj related business services immediately. Furthermore, we support action by law enforcement against those who clearly violate the MMMA, such as providing mmj to persons not registered with the state. We are not a bunch of want-to-be criminal potheads.

 

Unfortunately, the subject of mmj often ends up turning primarily into a discussion about its potential for abuse and law enforcement issues, an emphasis that wrongly skews the debate. Medical marijuana is first of all and should always remain primarily a question regarding the physical health and well being of humans, a question of human dignity and rights. It is not first a law enforcement issue but a medical rights issue. It is not first a debate about the scientific evidence—which has for the most part been settled. It is not first a democrat issue, a liberal or conservative issue. It is first of all a medical rights and human dignity issue that transcends political persuasions. Every person has the right to the best health care access available, to safe environments for the purchase and use of medicine and protection from discrimination by those who disapprove of particular medical treatments. Even some persons dying horribly from some diseases are aided by mj. Although our discussion of medical rights is very short, these rights are actually at the base of all health care ethics, which extends to mmj. Cooperatives supplement SAFE ACCESS to the medicine patients need for their health well being and human dignity. No one can mount a successful moral argument against such a human right. Furthermore, cooperatives facilitate the intent of the MMMA to make medical marijuana available in SAFE HAVENS for those who need it.

 

Indeed, the concept of a SAFE HAVEN is the best image for the overall goal we hold out for. By federal decree, marijuana has been classified as an illegal drug because it has been deemed very dangerous and has no medical benefits whatsoever. Unbiased scientific research, however, has completely shattered that designation. Our state law seeks to correct the federal government’s erroneous classification of mj by decriminalizing its use for medical purposes. Our state law essentially seeks to create SAFE HAVENS for its availability, consumption and cultivation. Our goal seeks to advance this concept and its practical implementation so that the mmj community receives all the services it needs while at the same time protecting the public from possible harms and nuisances.

 

The MMMA states,

 

333.26422 Findings, declaration.

 

© Although federal law currently prohibits any use of marihuana except under very limited circumstances, states are not required to enforce federal law or prosecute people for engaging in activities prohibited by federal law. . . .

 

Sometimes local officials argue that mmj is still illegal under federal law (true) and that federal law takes precedence over state laws (not true). Similarly, sometimes law enforcement authorities argue that federal law trumps state law. But this argument ignores a ground-breaking court ruling that declared state law enforcement agencies are not required to enforce federal drug laws.

 

Thus, in our view, Michigan law creates SAFE HAVENS where patients and caregivers are protected from arrest or prosecution for engaging in mmj related activities. Shockingly, the very persons sworn to uphold the law and the MMMA sometimes undermine the concept of SAFE HAVENS. For example, some law enforcement agencies—including the Holland Police department, according to what interim Police Chief Matt Messer has stated—follow a protocol in which they arrest a person who has proper paperwork but has not yet received a registry card from the state (perhaps also confiscating all their plants and medicine and destroying all their grow equipment to boot, actions supposedly based on forfeiture law). Police do so despite the fact that the MMMA clearly declares that a copy of the paperwork submitted to the state provides the same legal protection, also from arrest, as the card! Police just figure a prosecutor or judge will sort it all out later—but not without putting the victim through a horrible legal nightmare with its accompanying emotional turmoil. Such disregard of the law by those sworn to uphold it further contributes to the widespread mistrust of law enforcement among persons in the mmj community. Persons in the mmj community ask, what good is a law designed to protect someone from arrest when it does not do so, when police can simply ignore with impunity a particular statutory aspect of the MMMA that undermines the concept of SAFE HAVENS? True, it is not easy for officers to verify a person’s paperwork. On the other hand, it is the experience of the mmj community that it’s difficult for law enforcement to adapt their ingrained procedures and attitudes. For instance, there seems to be a lack of training regarding the MMMA. Some officers appear to be clueless about even the basic protections the law affords patients and caregivers. Other officers despise the new law and find it hard to reform their personal attitude, assuming wrongdoing until a person is proven innocent.

 

We believe that by working together more effectively, law enforcement and the mmj community can do far better at overcoming problems with the law, crime and abuse. Indeed, the simple lack of good communication probably contributes more to the dysfunctional relationship between the mmj community and law enforcement than any other factor. Lack of communication does not benefit either organization. We hope to change this unproductive situation, which is the occasion for this letter. Since we all agree that medical marijuana law is a mess, why don’t we work together more to make the best of a situation rife with problems? Frankly, we aren’t optimistic about our invitation. It is the experience of some leaders in the mmj community that law enforcement often rebuffs attempts at working together as best we could.

 

3. We now discuss compassion clubs. Our club is not a cooperative, but we offer services to our members similar to a cooperative. Two basic models for clubs exist. Some clubs are strictly educational organizations. They only hold public meetings and disseminate information. That’s it. But other clubs, including ours, offer additional, strictly private, members-only activities for state registered patients and caregivers. These activities may involve hosting events where paraphernalia, seeds, clones and medicine are available. The MMMA does not create a way to buy seeds legally to start plants, another example of the MMMA’s many shortcomings. A club is a SAFE HAVEN where, among other things, members supply seeds and clones to each other to start plants, seeds and clones that are produced by members. In other words, some clubs engage in activities that overlap with the services that a cooperative might offer. For example, on a Saturday morning there might be a canna-market where members bring grow equipment they might sell or trade. Or they might sell seeds and clones.

 

In our view, compassion clubs provide the most suitable context for crucial supplementary mmj services that are needed, including the transferring of medicine. Unlike a cooperative, a club’s primary purpose does not center on supplementing the supply of mmj for patients. Perhaps an analogy might help. If cooperatives are like liquor stores, then clubs are more like supermarkets, only one isle in which contains alcohol. The public image a supermarket projects differs markedly from that of a liquor store. In addition, a club’s members hold far different needs, expectations and attitudes than clients of a liquor store. Members of a club commit themselves to more extensive responsibilities than patrons of a party store. More contrast could be made. Many clubs, including ours, devote part of their time and resources to nonmmj related community service projects such as food drives, donations to needy families and support of charitable organizations or civic/social causes. We do our best to project a socially responsible organization that’s engaged with the local community. In short, offering supplementary services for patients and caregivers is far more appropriate within the context of a club than a store.

 

Almost all club names in the state of Michigan contain the word “compassion” in them. The bottom line is we are in the business of advancing human compassion for mmj patients by means of clubs that are SAFE HAVENS. We understand, of course, that we cannot expect explicit approval or protection from arrest for engaging in, for example, transfers. We are willing to accept such burdens, when they rest on mutual understandings between our club, officials and law enforcement.

 

We prefer to be open about the activities our club engages in, being open also to monitoring by law enforcement in ways acceptable to all involved. If we work together more, abuse and illegal activity will be reduced. In contrast, allowing the “us versus them” mentality to continue in the mmj community leads to the opposite result. Again, please consider this fact: it is not possible to eradicate the strong demand in the mmj community for supplementary mmj services not directly addressed in the MMMA. However, it is possible for our club and law enforcement to respond to this demand in ways that results in less crime and abuse, rather than more. We desire for law enforcement to do their job but at the same time to use discretion so that we can do ours.

 

We understand that in the eyes of some medical marijuana is a charade. We don’t deny there are problems in the mmj community. But not only is mmj law a mess, our entire world is a mess. We want to do our best to improve the situation. Therefore, we now discuss specific self-imposed rules we as a club operate by regarding supplementary services to patients and caregivers. These rules continue to be refined as needed.

 

Anyone who wants to participate in a private club activity for state registered patients and caregivers must complete a written membership application. Applicants must present both a MI picture ID and a mmj card or a copy of the paperwork submitted to the state with proof of cashed check or money order at least 20 days old. Copies are made of a person’s state MMMP identification card. All members are issued a durable identification card that must be worn in a visible manner at all private events. Different color membership cards differentiate between patients and caregivers. Both state and club cards must be shown to enter any private event. Without these, no one enters.

 

The club application has persons agree not to distribute marijuana to non-members and not to use the marijuana for other than medical purposes. We track when members’ medical marijuana recommendation and/or identification cards expire. We do not allow anyone with an expired card to participate in private events. The club enforces its rules by disciplining or expelling any member who breaks them. All the rules are published in a membership handbook that contains all relevant membership rules and relevant state statutes. The club acquires marijuana only from constituent members. These persons are compensated for the cost of growing medicine, which the MMMA allows. It states, “Any such compensation shall not constitute the sale of controlled substances.”

The club transfers the mmj it receives to any member patient but to no caregiver. Members make donations to the club for all private-event services where mmj products are available. The club sells no seeds, clones or raw mmj. It accepts donations for these (a practice similar to what some 501 (3) c state registered organizations engage in). No patient is allowed to purchase more than 6 ounces of raw medicine per month, the extreme limit most patients could use during this time. We never have more raw medicine on our premises than 2.5 ounces for each patient and caregiver who is a member of the club. Donations that members provide the club are limited to an amount necessary to cover overhead, operating costs and employee expenses. Medicine is provided free to persons who demonstrate financial hardship but do not exceed 5% of all members. The club has a detailed security plan for our facility. It includes security signage, 24-hour video surveillance, robust outside security lighting, substantial locking mechanisms for all entry doors. Storage of all seeds, clones, plants or forms of medicine is inside a closet or room with robust walls, locks and an alarm system connected to a private security company. No mj is grown on the premises except for clones shorter than 12” tall measured from the top of the soil to the top of the clone. A person who has been convicted of any felony drug related charge is not allowed to volunteer or be employed by the club. There are no transactions of any kind allowed outside of our facility or on any property or parking nearby. All consumption of alcohol is prohibited outside or inside the facility. No weapons are allowed on the premises, either outside or inside the facility.

 

At the top of our list of rules are two. First, mmj remains secure and does not end up in the hands of persons not authorized by the state to consume it. Again, we never permit members to transfer mmj to caregivers or noncard-holding persons. Upon reasonable verification, we take appropriate action against any who does. Second, we never allow anyone to medicate during any club-sponsored activity and then go out and drive (although research clearly shows that impairment of driving skills by mj intoxication is minimal compared to alcohol, to which it is often unfairly compared). We could contemplate an acceptable form of monitoring by officials to ensure this policy is always followed during club sponsored events.

 

By this letter, we invite officials and relevant agencies to forms of interaction that help ensure our club’s compliance to state laws and our own rules. Frankly, none of us wants to end up in jail needlessly over simple miscommunication. Again, please consider that being out in the open will produce results that are far more desirable for all concerned parties than being forced to operate underground. We pray that you agree.

 

Finally, we want to emphasize our desire to always remain discreet. We want to remain out of the public spotlight. Most persons in the mmj community, in order to protect themselves from various possible negative consequences, want to remain strictly anonymous. We prefer no publicity whatsoever and do not want to be in the media.

 

Also, we prefer, as much as possible, to keep communication with officials and law enforcement strictly confidential.

 

We look forward to improving communication and understanding with officials and law enforcement.

 

Thank you for your service to the West Olive and broader West Michigan community.

 

Sincerely,

 

Kurt Volbeda,

on behalf of everyone in the local mmj community.

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