by Rick Thompson/August 30, 2017
UPDATE: this report was corrected to reflect Mr. LaMontaine’s area of law enforcement service. ~RT
EAST LANSING- During a controversial meeting of the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Board on August 21, a proposal was made to order the closure of all businesses handling cannabis in the state of Michigan.
The proposal was made by a retired Michigan State Police Sergeant, Don Bailey, and was supported by a former Speaker of the House, Republican Rick Johnson, both Board members. During the multi-hour meeting citizens from across the state told the Board how they felt about the proposal and described the intentional consequence they will be creating if they approve a shutdown of facilities in Michigan.
Many patients told the Licensing Board that shuttering dispensaries and testing facilities and processors was a harmful idea.
Sue Nolff, a patient, asked what she should do if her supply of concentrates is cut off. “I don’t appreciate you guys saying that you are going to shut down the current… suppliers for patients,” she began. “I have no caregiver; I depend on those concentrates. And that’s the only place (dispensaries) that I can get them right now.”
“What am I supposed to do?” Nolff asked. “Am I supposed to go back on the black market to get what I need? I don’t even smoke flower, I can’t get those concentrates without the people selling them now.”
Concentrated forms of cannabis medicines are specialty items whose existence outside of the medical marijuana program is a rarity.
“Please consider the patients first when you are talking about shutting places (the dispensaries) down.”
Another patient, Mark Gibson, spoke about the issue of ‘fairness’ that Don Bailey said was his motivation for shutting down distribution centers across the state. Gibson asked the Board to “consider the financial costs” to patients who would need to stock up on medicines before the distribution centers closed down under the Bailey proposal. “You are asking them to make a significant financial investment in order to maintain their medical treatment. I think that is unfair,” especially given the quick time frame proposed by Bailey, he said.
“It’s not right to ask patients who have used medical cannabis for years to complicate their lives so much that they may not be able to get effective treatment.” Gibson told the Board.
Don Bailey’s idea of fair play was challenged by Zahra Abbas, who spoke of her struggles with illness and how she overcame her symptoms- but now, the Board threatened to put her health in jeopardy. Abbas identified herself as an epilepsy patient who uses medical cannabis “because nothing else worked, even brain surgery, for it.”
“What is going to happen to us, the ones who rely on (dispensaries)?” Abbas asked the Board. “That is very unfair. We can’t get enough to last us until you guys start opening them again,” she informed then. “So, what will happen then?”
Amos Mborg used his cellular telephone to show all the Board members the face of his “six-year old daughter, who is one year seizure free after trying cannabis.”
“We rely currently on the dispensaries to provide the medication we need for her. If this emergency law goes into place we will not have access to that.”
Kirk Reid, a muscular sclerosis patient known internationally as Captain Kirk, made a passionate plea to the Board. His work in the field of edible cannabis products has improved the lives of countless patients in several states, and he has the awards to prove it.
“How many of you have actually held marijuana nuggets in your hand?” he asked the Board.
Rick Johnson replied, “Not in my hand.” Johnson, as a former Speaker of the House, has been dealing with drug enforcement for many years. Reid asked about seeing concentrates and edibles- both times Johnson responded, “Yes I have.” Reid offered to spend time with the Board members to educate them on cannabis.
Notable: the two police officers, Don Bailey (MSP) and David LaMontaine (Monroe and Wayne County law enforcement) refused to acknowledge Reid’s inquiry. The requirements of their duties and their training suggests that both men have experience with the three types of medical cannabis they were asked about.
“Let me tell you what happens if you close those dispensaries down, Mr. Bailey,” he said. “Folks like myself will probably be back in the parking lots of the Walmart or the high school parking lots buying our medicine- because that’s where it came from,” prior to the existence of dispensaries. “That’s not acceptable to me as a patient.”
Reid called out Board members who he said were “laughing” at his testimony. “You look at me as maybe some kind of loser because I don’t wear a suit… please, don’t look down on my community because we don’t dress in suits or we don’t have the education you have.”
“Cutting off safe access… prior to December 15th, I think, is a very bad idea,” said Thetford Township Trustee Eric Gunnels, himself a patient who has fought battles with authorities over cannabis issues. “Patients need their access… I don’t think this is the time to turn on the State Police and come and attack our community.”
Gunnels came to the meeting as a local official who needs guidance from the state. “We need clarity,” he told them, and later, “transparency.”
This author spoke at the meeting and described the Board’s proposal as “dangerous.”
“First and foremost, you are entitled and responsible to ensure a continuity of coverage for medical marijuana patients in the state of Michigan,” the Board was challenged. “Talking about interrupting their flow of medicine on a whim by Sgt. Bailey is dangerous. It’s dangerous for the 250,000 medical marijuana patients in the state.
“I’ve been doing this a long time- I freaked out when I heard you say that. This is an absolutely irresponsible discussion.”
Bailey’s assertion that all dispensaries are illegal was challenged by facts from Michigan’s history, including the licensing of dispensaries in Detroit and Flint since the Court decision cited by Bailey. If Bailey’s suggestion that dispensaries are illegal was true there are many city officials who are “accessories” to felonious acts, it was pointed out.
Longtime Michigan cannabis rights advocate Tim Beck also testified. He identified himself as “the one responsible for getting the funding for the ballot initiative” that created the MMMA in 2008. He was in disbelief over Bailey’s proposal. “I second Rick Thompson,” he said, adding, “I’m just blown away… This is inconceivable. This has never been done. This is an unprecedented action.”
He directly addressed Bailey. “This comes across to me and most of us as petty, vindictive and authoritarian in the worst sense of the word.”
Beck cited other states who have regulated an existing market without shuttering the existing system on a statewide level. He also asked the Board to direct their disappointment at the state legislature who “kicked the can down the road for years and never listened and never did anything.”
Dennis Hayes, an attorney from Ann Arbor with a storied history, told the Board that the city’s dispensaries “proudly and diligently serve probably about 80,000 – 90,000 patients.”
“The necessity of finding the right medication is a critical component of their treatment,” he explained to the Board. “Your interpretation of McQueen… I join the others in saying I don’t think your interpretation is correct. I believe that the dispensaries operating in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are operating within the law.”
“The patients are what’s important here.” Hayes finished with, “An existing dispensary operator should be allowed to apply for a state license because they’re the only ones with any literal experience.”
Detroit’s Cannabis Counsel featured two attorneys as speakers, Thomas Lavigne and Matthew Abel.
“We are in the middle of an opiate crisis,” Lavigne reminded the Board, stating that shuttering dispensaries will “exacerbate that opiate crisis.” He later added, “Let’s fight this opioid crisis and not drive people back to those (medicines).”
The best measure of a society is by how they treat their most seriously ill, Lavigne pointed out. “The only way to protect the most seriously ill is to allow safe access as long as possible for these patients.
Grandma doesn’t know anyone who grows marijuana.”
Abel spoke later in the discussion. “There are caregivers who live in places where they cannot grow,” he said to the Board. “Closing down the dispensaries is going to hurt a lot of people.” He urged the Board to allow dispensaries which are currently licensed under local ordinance to stay open during the rules process, and only when a licensed facility opens should the unlicensed facilities in that area be removed.
Dori Edwards spoke about her personal medical needs, a tincture which is “not available from my caregiver and only available through a dispensary.”
“I don’t have a lot of faith that this Board, or LARA, will be able to give licenses out soon enough. If you’re asking me to stock up on enough medicine in the next two weeks to last me not just until December 15th, but until you guys actually license these facilities and then they open their doors… you’re asking me to break the law. You’re asking me to get way over the amount that I am legally allowed to carry at any one time.”
Allison Ireton is an attorney from Ann Arbor. She discussed the facts in the McQueen case.
“McQueen was a case predicated on very specific facts,” she explained. “It referenced a certain type of patient-to-patient transfer,” which was found to be not in compliance with the MMMA. “Bill Schuette sent letters to all the local prosecutors say that, if they choose to, they could shut down dispensaries based on McQueen. Now we know that people (prosecutors) have decided not to do that… because they see them as a benefit.
“I know that is not a popular opinion for Sergeant Bailey and maybe others on the Board, but it’s a fact.”
Several speakers spoke about Detroit and the need to protect the distribution centers which are licensed by their respective cities. Two speakers who are employees of the city of Detroit spoke, including Richard Clement.
Clement said shutting down distribution centers in Detroit has cost the city “a million dollars,” and detailed the easiest way to get photographs of medical marijuana patients and caregivers on the cards: “Elect me as Secretary of State.”
“It’s not 1939, it’s 2017. Prohibition is over,” Clement told the Board.
The Board also heard from some anti-cannabis voices during the three-hours long meeting.
A woman, Susan, described the circumstance of her son’s death by suicide, blaming the incident on cannabis. The Township Supervisor from Commerce Township described his community’s effort to eradicate medical marijuana cultivation centers, claiming that 67 cannabis gardens in his community were illegal operations. Hospice nurse Cathleen Graham attacked the competency of the people distributing cannabis in Michigan, citing a national study which claimed budtenders and others were poorly trained and gave out incorrect advice on usage to patients.
You can view the full video (saved in two parts) by clicking HERE.