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City's Medical Pot Law Pays Off

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ROYAL OAK — The lawsuits filed against the city for its local law banning medical marijuana growing operations are going up in smoke and giving advocates for tight regulation something to blow their horn about.


City Commissioner Michael Andrzejak, an early supporter for allowing grow operations at the patient's house only, announced Monday that he changed his position and now backs the city's ordinance that passed 4-3 in January.


The zoning change prohibits all enterprises contrary to federal law (possession and use of marijuana violates the Controlled Substance Act) with two exceptions. Qualifying patients can possess or use marijuana in their home and a caregiver can assist patients if they are connected to them through the Michigan Department of Community Health registration process. The ordinance means Royal Oak's medical marijuana patients can't grow their 12 state-allotted plants at their house or have a caregiver do it for them, and no dispensaries are allowed in commercial or industrial zones.


Andrzejak opposed the cultivation ban, but in retrospect he said he would like to change his vote in favor of the ordinance because of the "holes" in the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act passed by 63 percent of the state's voters in 2008.


"I voted with my heart versus my head," Andrzejak said. "I placed a lot of weight on witnessing my father die from cancer years ago."


Andrzejak said he didn't consider medical marijuana cards could be issued to patients under the age of 18 or that patients might drive while under the influence of marijuana or that elected officials could end up in court like Craig Covey, the former Ferndale mayor and a current Oakland County commissioner, did last week.


Covey pleaded the Fifth Amendment when asked questions about whether he ever visited Clinical Relief, a dispensary for medical marijuana that opened on Hilton Road, Ferndale, before that city enacted a moratorium on such facilities. Clinical Relief closed following a raid by the Oakland County Narcotics Enforcement Team.


Royal Oak City Commissioner Chuck Semchena said Covey's decision to limit his testimony shows all elected officials have legal exposure for facilitating activities in violation of federal law regardless of the state law.


"For the first time we had a mayor on the witness stand refusing to answer questions so he doesn't incriminate himself," Semchena said. "Passing a law and licensing someone or issuing permits to conduct an activity that is illegal under federal law could be aiding and abetting. Last week was the first example of that. To me that was significant."


City Commissioner Jim Rasor disagreed. He is the attorney representing the defendant in the Clinical Relief case in which Covey was called to testify. Rasor said he believes elected officials have legislative immunity.


"The day federal officers break into this chamber to arrest us for implementing the will of the voters of this state is going to be an interesting day indeed in federal court," Rasor said.


Semchena asked for an update Monday on medical marijuana cases against Royal Oak. He contends the city has a compassionate ordinance that lets patients use medical marijuana while addressing concerns of some residents about the excess from growing operations getting into the hands of youths.


City Attorney David Gillam said two of four lawsuits against Royal Oak have been dropped — one by resident Adam Brook, who sued the city as soon as its ban on residential and commercial grow operations went into effect in February.


A few weeks later, the lawsuit was dropped and Brook, who had an expired medical marijuana patient card, was charged with one count of delivering and manufacturing marijuana, three counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and four counts of felony firearm charges. The charges stemmed from a raid by NET, which seized about 600 grams of marijuana, two loaded handguns, a loaded shotgun, a bullet-proof vest, marijuana candy, a triple-beam scale, and a tally sheet with names and prices.


Another lawsuit was dropped by AFKF, LLC, which owned a vacant warehouse on Torquay Avenue in north Royal Oak and wanted to lease it for a medical marijuana manufacturing operation for 10 caregivers. The warehouse was in foreclosure and AFKF alleged economic hardship. The city maintained that the property was in foreclosure because of the bad economy and not Royal Oak's moratorium on medical marijuana facilities.


A motion also is pending to dismiss a companion lawsuit filed by AFKF, which alleges Royal Oak is responsible for making payments to the bank that foreclosed on the warehouse.


"We're optimistic the motion will be granted and the file will be closed," Gillam said.


Semchena said, "We haven't lost a case and we've spent a minimal amount of money — $6,000 so far. All these threats of lawsuits and million-dollar judgments against the city are vanishing. We also protected ourselves from criminal liability. That's a good validation of our position."


However, a lawsuit by medical marijuana patient Christopher Frizzo remains. Frizzo has multiple sclerosis. He says medical marijuana relieves muscle spasms and nausea while increasing his appetite. Because of limited mobility and income, he wants to grow his own medical marijuana at home.








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