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21 Herbal Owners Say They Didn't Expect Problems

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
OWOSSO - When opening their doors for business just a few weeks ago, the owners of 21 Herbal on W M-21 didn't expect the firestorm of controversy they find themselves in today.

Because of complaints from members of a Catholic church across the street, the owners of the medical marijuana facility say they are willing to relocate their business.

Co-owner Zack, who declined to provide his last name citing employment concerns, said he didn't intend to upset anyone at the church, but figures it's better just to move on, although as of now, he doesn't appear to be breaking any laws.

"As of right now there isn't something solidly prohibiting us from being here," he said. "Due to the fact they're trying to drive us out...If it's that big of a problem it's just not worth it."

Zack and co-owner Susan, who also chose not to provide her last name, thought business for their medical marijuana dispensary would get underway without a hitch.

"( Causing trouble ) was not our goal whatsoever," Zack said after being asked about all the attention his business has received in the past few days. "We're not trying to be controversial."

The third-party medical marijuana facility became the center of controversy when Father John Fain, pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church and dozens of his parishioners addressed the Owosso City Council during Monday's meeting.

Their main concern was the view from the school's first-grade classroom window, which is directly across the street from 21 Herbal.

"We are here tonight to express our concern and, I think, even our outrage that there is a medical marijuana business directly across the street from our school. In fact, if you look out the first-grade classroom that's what you'll see," Fain said during public comment at the meeting.

According to Zack, he made a phone call to the St. Paul Church when the facility opened and prior to the council meeting. He said he did not talk directly to Father Fain, but that he had a conversation with the woman who answered the phone. Zack said they spoke about the facility's hours of operation. He said he would close down during an hour stretch of when the children were arriving at school, the same amount of time while the children were leaving school and would also close down during the church's Sunday service.

"Whoever I spoke with at the church didn't seem to think it would be an issue," Zack said. "I thought if it was an issue they would have come directly to me."

He said church members didn't do that. They instead chose to take it to the city council. "We could have worked out some sort of agreement," Zack contends.

Zack said he wanted to address some of the concerns St. Paul parishioners raised to the city council. First, his method of operation, which some consider questionable, but which appears to be within the law.

Both Zack and Susan are registered medical marijuana patients and are considered primary caregivers, which allows each of them to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and to grow up to 12 plants apiece. Zack has been approved for medical marijuana because of persistent muscle spasms while Susan cited migraines as her illness.

As part of their business, Zack and Susan use a portion of their own medical marijuana, along with marijuana from what Zack calls "overages from other caregivers and patients," to supply his business' members. He can still only possess 5 ounces at the store at any time because both he and Susan are caregivers. Because each caregiver is only allowed 2.5 ounces of marijuana, but can grow up to 12 plants, they often have more than they can legally possess, he said.

Through what Zack calls "reimbursements for donations," because it is illegal to sell the controlled substance, he obtains marijuana from other caregivers and as a third party, 21 Herbal, through the same concept of "reimbursements of donations," distributes the medical marijuana to registered card holders only, who pay a $5 fee for lifetime membership. That is where the law gets tricky.

21 Herbal and medical marijuana dispensaries alike operate under a specific provision within the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act that states "A registered primary caregiver may receive compensation for costs associated with assisting a registered qualifying patient in the medical use of marihuana. Any such compensation shall not constitute the sale of controlled substances."

According to Mike Compeau, Owosso public safety director, because dispensaries say they are receiving the money through donations, along with the allowed compensation from the growing, processing and producing of medical marijuana, it is legal.

Zack and Susan's dispensary has about 30 members. They said all of their members must prove they are licensed card-holders for medical marijuana and must show paperwork every time they come in the door.

One of the issues raised at Monday's meeting was how a facility may serve more than five patients per caregiver as outlined in the law.

Compeau said the provision under which they operate is ambiguous and can be interpreted in many ways. Also, few court cases have contributed to how it is interpreted. Zack and Susan are within the law because they are not their patients' registered caregivers, they are simply assisting patients, which the law states they can legally do, and receive compensation for it.

"I might read it one way and someone else reads it another way," Compeau said. "I may say he can only have five patients, but he says the number he can assist is unlimited...it's so ambiguous."

As far as the donations go, Zack said they aren't required. When asked what would happen if someone chose not to donate he said he still would supply it "if the amount wasn't too great. I do it every day."

21 Herbal also assists in registering for of medical marijuana cards for $120. The facility does not issue cards.

The ambiguity of the law and its openness to interpretation is why Owosso and several other communities are struggling to regulate it.

"We're reviewing it, but as far as I see, we haven't seen anything illegal," Compeau said.

As far as moving to a different location, Zack said the business has been looking for other rental sites, but because of the attention to his business, in particular, it hasn't been easy.

"We will be moving to a different location, but nobody will rent to us," he said. He did have another building owner willing to rent, but once the church expressed concerns, 21 Herbal was turned down. Zack noted the irony of the situation. He said by creating so much controversy about the business and where it is, the church has made it difficult to find a willing lessee elsewhere.

"They are almost forcing us to stay here," he said.

NewsHawk: Jim Behr: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: Argus-Press, The (Owosso, MI)
Copyright: 2011 The Argus-Press
Contact: The Argus-Press
Website: The Argus-Press
Details: MAP: Media Directory
Author: Curtis Wildfong
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