Clearing up the smoke: Medical marijuana in southwest Michigan
Medical marijuana is already in Michiana, but its presence is growing. So ABC57’s Taylor Popielarz spent the last few weeks learning the rules and regulations of a drug that’s not going anywhere.
At a Buchanan city commission meeting on Monday, February 12, city leaders voted unanimously to grant their first medical marijuana permits to the guys behind Redbud Roots.
“We’re looking to open three grow operations, a processing facility and potentially a couple dispensaries in and around the area,” said David Murray, the operations manager of Redbud Roots.
A short drive from city hall sits an old machine shop on Post Road in Buchanan that will soon become a medical marijuana grow center.
It will be run by a mixed group of those who use medical cannabis and those who don’t.
Hunter Mishler credits marijuana with helping him overcome cyclic vomiting syndrome.
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He’ll be director of production for Redbud Roots.
“I had to use cannabis this morning; I was feeling nauseous,” Mishler said. “And here I am, having a normal conversation with you. I can go about my day, and anyone can do that with the right education and the right tools in the form of medicine available to them.”
The Green Door Dispensary
Medical marijuana was legalized in Michigan in 2008. But it's just now starting to make its way to the southwest corner of the state.
About an hour north in the tiny city of Bangor, The Green Door Dispensary opened up about three months ago.
“We want to be the example of doing it right, following the laws, and doing it the way it should get done,” said Mark Smith, the president of the dispensary.
Smith went from managing manufacturing plants for over three decades to now managing a marijuana business.
His daughter’s epilepsy led him to look into the drug. And once he realized it worked, he drew up a business plan.
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The Green Door already has over 600 registered customers, coming from as far as 125 miles away.
You can only get in if you have a valid Michigan driver’s license and a valid state medical marijuana card.
The only other people allowed in are Bangor city leaders.
“They have keys to the building – the fire chief, the police officers – so if something happens here they don’t have to wait for us; they can come in; they can come in anytime; we invite them in,” Smith said. “We want to be transparent in what we’re doing here.”
“The council had a lot of questions, so we had quite a few meetings with question and answer sessions, and they had a lot of questions,” said Regina Hoover, the city manager of Bangor. “And I think when they got the answers, and the answers made a lot of sense to them, they were really on board.”
Hoover said up to three dispensaries will be allowed to open in downtown.
She said there’s already interest in some of the city’s vacant storefronts from some non-marijuana businesses because of the traffic The Green Door is attracting.
And as for crime, Bangor Police Chief Tommy Simpson said there’s been no change since marijuana came to town.
He actually supports legalizing it recreationally.
“I think this – where they’re able to dispense marijuana, is probably a safer and better environment because you have a regulated business in town here, versus somebody who is growing it out of a shed or growing it into a locked area in their house where it offends the neighbors because of the smell,” Simpson said. “So at least with these places there’s regulations.”
The regulations don’t just apply to those who run a medical marijuana business.
In Michigan, cannabis patients can legally carry two and half ounces of marijuana on their person and grow up to 12 marijuana plants.
A patient can also go to a primary caregiver, who can grow up to 60 plants to treat five users.
If driving with medical marijuana in your car, it has to be in a container in your trunk or in a place that’s not accessible from inside the car.
And Michigan drivers who use medical cannabis don’t get special treatment.
“If you have a medical marijuana card, it’s treated just like a prescription drug – then the police have to show you’re visibly impaired by the drug; so the police have a higher burden of proof,” said Michigan State Police Trooper Tim Gean. “Just like it’s not OK to drive under the influence of Vicodin or a painkiller, for example.”
Gean is a drug recognition expert.
He said his biggest concern is training officers how to detect if someone may be under the influence of drugs rather than alcohol.
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Gean showed ABC57’s Taylor Popielarz a new oral test system being piloted in Berrien County. It’s used if drugs like marijuana are suspected after a field sobriety test.
“It’s sealed right now,” Gean said, showing the test. “I stick that in their mouth. Once I get enough saliva on it, the tip turns blue. I put it in this hole, hit the start button -- it takes approximately five minutes.”
But if you cross the state line into Indiana, things change drastically.
“You legally smoke with appropriate credentials in Michigan and drive in Indiana, the byproduct, or the residue, from what you did in Michigan can turn into a crime in Indiana,” said Eric Tamashasky, St. Joseph County deputy prosecutor.
He said having any marijuana in Indiana – be it medical or recreational – is a misdemeanor.
And even if you’re a licensed user in Michigan, driving in the Hoosier state with it in your system could result in a DUI.
“I just don’t want folks to think that because you comply with Michigan laws, you now have a pass from the enforcement of Indiana’s,” Tamashasky said. “That’s now how it works.”
There were over 218,000 medical marijuana patients in Michigan in 2016 –about 2-percent of the population.
Berrien County had roughly 2,900 patients and 660 caregivers.
Cass County had just under 1,000 patients and 189 caregivers.
There’s a good chance many of them were certified by Dr. David Crocker.
“A lot of our patients still feel like criminals and that they’re treated like second class citizens,” Crocker said.
Crocker is a medical doctor who entered the cannabis world in 2009 after working as an interventional radiologist.
He now has about 12,000 medical marijuana patients across southwest Michigan; he just expanded his Kalamazoo-based business by opening a certification clinic in Niles.
“If you walk into my office and you’re a veteran and you’ve got two legs missing, and it’s obvious that you’ve got problems, I’m not going to require a stack of records this high, but I still require medical records, right?” Crocker said. “If you’re a younger patient that looks otherwise healthy, and you’ve got an issue that’s not obvious, then we require very stringent medical records to ascertain that this is a problem; it’s chronic, meaning it’s been going on for at least six months; it’s severe, meaning it’s been interfering with normal, daily activities like sleep and work and enjoyment of life and so forth.”
Michigan state law lists cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, nail patella, cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe and chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, and severe and persistent muscle spasms as qualifiers for medical marijuana.
You call Crocker’s office to schedule an appointment and come for an assessment after he reviews your records.
If Crocker agrees you qualify, he fills out a recommendation and sends it to the state. You could get your card in three or four weeks.
Back in Buchanan, the guys at Redbud Roots are planning for construction and the chance to educate and engage.
Master grower Bill Haas was born and raised in the area.
He said Redbud Roots will work to become a local leader in cannabis and community.
“I say, 'It’s my town.' You know?” Haas said. “This is my town too. And there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. And if we put the right people in place and do the right things, we’re going to have a good thing here.”
Niles, Eau Claire, and Benton Harbor are some other Berrien County communities working to figure out where they want to allow medical marijuana businesses to open.
Crocker and Smith said their average client right now is between their late 40s and 60s.
To learn more about medical marijuana in Michigan, click here.
And click here to read more about Indiana potentially considering to legalize medical marijuana.