After a court decision to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan last fall, those involved with medical marijuana, city officials and others continue to wonder what’s next.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled commercial marijuana sales illegal Aug. 24, 2011, rendering the practice of dispensaries in Michigan unlawful. Medical marijuana still is legal in the state, but patients are required to get medical marijuana directly from their caregivers or grow it themselves because of the ruling.
No dispensaries ever were established in East Lansing — only one application for a medical marijuana dispensary was received before the ruling, and it was denied by both the East Lansing Planning Commission and the East Lansing City Council.
Lansing, however, was affected more by the change.
About 40 to 50 dispensaries were operating within Lansing city limits at the time of the court ruling, and more applications for dispensary locations were being processed, Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope said.
After the decision, the city sent dispensary owners a letter bringing the ruling to their attention and advised them to shut down the businesses or change business practice to fit the legal mold, Swope said. He said he has heard a few dispensaries in the area managed to stay afloat by changing their business model, but the vast majority of dispensaries in Lansing closed in the wake of the ruling.
Because the business was specialized to a specific audience, the overall economy of Lansing wasn’t affected, Swope said, but on a smaller scale, those involved likely saw some major ramifications.
“I’m sure there was an impact on some patients that were willing to access marijuana through dispensaries,” he said. “I’m sure there were some landlords that were counting on rent that weren’t getting rent and things like that.”
French sophomore Kristen Ingram said her mother, who was diagnosed with cancer, used medical marijuana to help alleviate the pain. Although the medication helped her mother greatly, Ingram said she thinks marijuana would be best dispensed in a medical setting — not through commercial operations.
“The idea of a store seems kind of sketch,” Ingram said.
James Wortz, an employee at home growing supply store Pro-Hydroglo, 3026 E. Michigan Ave., in Lansing, said business slightly increased after dispensaries were made illegal because more people had to grow their own medical marijuana.
“It either stayed the same or increased slightly because more people are growing for themselves,” Wortz said.
In a location where almost 70 percent of residents voted to legalize medical marijuana practices, the ruling denying dispensaries was contradictory to their interests, said Randy Hannan, spokesman for Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.
But Lansing attorney Matthew Newburg said he advised some dispensaries in the area to close their doors.
If former dispensaries choose to remain open, Newburg said they still might be more prone to raids and other law enforcement investigations even if they currently are not selling marijuana.
“To remain open and to have a storefront, … that does not look good or bode well,” Newburg said.
Ken Van Every, former co-owner of Compassionate Apothecaries, said he washed his hands of the medical marijuana trade in August 2011 after last year’s court decision.
Although it was disappointing for Van Every to close his business’ doors, he said it was necessary to obey the law.
“It’s unfortunate for the patients, but at the same time you’ve got to obey the laws,” Van Every said.