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W Michigan Officials Target Medical Marijuana

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GRAND RAPIDS — Across West Michigan, medical marijuana dispensaries began to emerge two years ago after state voters approved an initiative to allow marijuana as medicine.


Most dispensaries opened with little public attention, and operators avoided publicity because of controversy surrounding the law.


Now, some local police and prosecutors hope they disappear as quietly as they came.


The state Court of Appeals last week essentially ruled that medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal and can be considered a public nuisance. Judges ruled on an Isabella County case where the dispensary collected a fee to sell excess marijuana to qualifying patients.


Lt. Greg Parolini, of the Kent Area Narcotic Enforcement Team, said he envisions taking steps to make sure Grand Rapids-area dispensaries are shut down.


“We were always under the belief that dispensaries did not fall under the guidelines of the law, but we really weren’t able to do anything to shut them down,” he said. “I guess for two years we’ve been waiting for some kind of decisive ruling to come down to give us some direction.”


Parolini said he is aware of at least six dispensaries in Cascade and Grand Rapids townships.


He said he expects to work with Kent County prosecutors in the next several days to develop a plan for dealing with dispensaries, but he does not anticipate any hardball tactics, such as raids, in the beginning.


“We are looking for cooperation,” he said. “They weren’t trying to hide.”


In most cases, he said, simply sending notices and having a conversation with dispensary owners may be enough to get action, Parolini said.


The Isabella County dispensary, the Compassionate Apothecary, operated on a specific business model. Still Parolini does not see how any dispensary can operate legally with the court ruling.


The state’s medical marijuana law allows for one caregiver to provide marijuana for up to five patients, with each patient eligible to have 12 plants. Caregivers can receive some compensation from their patients for growing the marijuana and buying the equipment.


In a statement last week, state Attorney General Bill Schuette said he believes all dispensaries are illegal and encouraged county prosecutors to look at shutting them down under the state’s nuisance laws.


Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause said she is not so sure the Isabella County ruling is so clear.


She questions whether caregivers can only receive compensation from the five patients to which they are assigned, or whether can they receive it from additional patients.


“I’m going to have to talk with my local law enforcement and try to come up with a plan on how to proceed,” she said.


She said four to eight dispensaries exist in Montcalm County.


Lt. Mike Anderson, of the West Michigan Enforcement Team, a police drug team covering Allegan, Ottawa and Muskegon counties, said he planned to meet today with Allegan County Prosecutor Fred Anderson on the issue.


He said he expects Allegan County to take a path similar to Kent’s.


“I think we are leaning toward trying to do some education with the dispensary operators,” he said, indicating a soft approach to getting them to close.


Anderson said he believes the Isabella County ruling essentially prohibits the sale of marijuana, particularly from a storefront.


“That’s my take,” he said. “Even if it’s patient-to-patient, there is no provision in the law for them to sell it.”


E-mail John Tunison: jtunison@grpress.com

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OO big surprise the guys who depend on federal drug dollars for their toys and do nothing jobs think that marijuana is a drug and dispensaries are illegal....how is this news? Why do they keep talking to the goons? They only do what they are told to do. The MMMA is a direct order from the people of the state of Michigan to STAND DOWN in regards to cannabis.

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