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Both Sides Seeking To Put End To Medical Marijuana Suit Before Trial


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Lawyers on both sides of the first medical marijuana lawsuit filed against the city of Lansing want a judge to rule in their favor in an effort to end the case before it reaches trial.


Attorneys representing the city don't believe TNT Industries LLC, a now-closed medical marijuana dispensary on East Michigan Avenue, has the legal standing necessary to challenge the municipality in court.


TNT in September asked Ingham County Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield to find its business in compliance with state law, force the city to return its operating license — even though it never received one — and award it monetary damages.


The case stems from a Michigan Court of Appeals panel's ruling this summer that patient-to-patient sales of marijuana are illegal under the 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana law. Lansing administrators halted a plan to administer business licenses after City Attorney Brig Smith advised dispensaries to close up shop.


Edwar Zeineh, a Lansing attorney representing TNT Industries, wants a court to determine the city was wrong to deny dispensaries the ability to operate, especially after they paid $1,000 application fees that are now to be returned.


TNT's lawsuit doesn't have the potential to set precedent as much as another case pending in a higher court — a challenge to the Michigan appeals court ruling that essentially invalidated dispensaries.


The Michigan Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to hear that case, which involves a dispensary in Isabella County. But local attorneys believe it has statewide implications that could make it a prime candidate.


Manderfield has yet to issue a written opinion. Her staff said the case remains under review.


At issue is this: Does the dispensary have the grounds to sue on behalf of a business license it never received? And if so, is the city of Lansing the appropriate entity?


"They say we don't have standing. We say we sure do," Zeineh said. "They're arguing procedure. We're arguing substance."


Zeineh said dispensaries, particularly TNT, are looking for clarity on how they can operate under a voter initiative that is supposed to protect them from prosecution. TNT is compensated for distributing marijuana but Zeineh has argued the business does not sell it but rather accepts a "modest fee" for preparing it for patients' use. Lansing has not differed from other municipalities trying to interpret a vague law, said Michael Woodworth, an attorney with Lansing-based The Hubbard Law Firm P.C., who is representing the city.


But because TNT's suit involves state law, the state should be the defendant since Lansing doesn't have the authority to change the law, Woodworth said.


To date, none of the 48 dispensaries that applied for licenses have received them. City Clerk Chris Swope received TNT's application in July, which to date has been reviewed by two of the six city departments required to sign off, he said in an affidavit filed in October.


Swope's office stopped processing license requests after the Court of Appeals ruling and agreed to return the once-nonrefundable application fees.


Lansing officials contracted with Woodworth's firm in part because he has represented municipalities in cases involving the medical marijuana statute, he said. Woodworth said he didn't know the amount the city has owed in legal fees thus far, but it is "into the thousands."


Smith, Lansing's attorney, did not return messages seeking comment.


Two other medical marijuana cases are pending in court:


• Shekina Pena, owner of Your Healthy Choice Clinic, is expected to stand trial in January in 54-A District Court, court officials said. Judge Louise Alderson is assigned to her case. Pena is accused of influencing voters with free marijuana, a misdemeanor. A post on the clinic's website in July offered a free half-gram of pot or edible marijuana product in exchange for registering to vote. The post also listed Lansing City Council candidates the dispensary supported. She has denied the charge. Her attorney, Matt Newburg, said a plea agreement has not been offered and Pena would not accept one.


• Newburg, of Lansing, also is representing the dispensary owners in People v. McQueen, the pivotal Isabella County case that resulted in a summer Court of Appeals panel ruling patient-to-patient sales of marijuana are illegal under Michigan's medical marijuana statute. Newburg has appealed it to the Michigan Supreme Court, but the court thus far has not chosen to hear the case.

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