By Anne Stanton
In light of the August raids of medical marijuana clinics in Oakland County and suspected local police surveillance, the Traverse City Compassion Club is putting its weekly private meetings at the Crema coffee shop on hold.
Because of the extreme position of the Oakland County prosecutor, theres definitely a climate of fear here in Traverse City, said Bob Heflin, a member and former president of the Compassion Club.
At the clubs last Monday meeting on August 30, one of the compassion club members observed that six plain clothes police officersdressed in short pants and polo shorts with visible side armswere sitting in a van with electronic surveillance equipment. The compassion club has its own plain-clothed security person who roams the sidewalk outside of the meetings to make sure there are no illegal drug transfers, said Kevin Plamondon, president of the Compassion Club.
We have our clubs integrity to protect, he said.
Traverse City Police Chief Mike Warren wasnt immediately available for comment.
The Oakland County raids included the arrest of four people at Clinical Relief, a medical marijuana clinic. Investigators also raided two other medical marijuana businesses located in Waterford. Fifteen people were arrested in total, according to a WXYZ report by Anu Prakash.
For the last few months, the Traverse City Compassion Club has held closed meetings every Monday night in the Crema coffee shop on Front Street.
The Compassion Club is a support group for patients who have been given legal permission by the Michigan Department of Community Health to use marijuana as medicine, typically in place of prescription painkillers. The clubs private meetings are strictly confined to legal patients and caregivers, who must be certified to provide marijuana to patients. Designated drivers are asked to come back to pick up patients after the meeting.
Patients must show their medical marijuana cards or appropriate paperwork at the door, and they have to be age 18 or older to enter. Makeshift curtains go around the windows of Crema while the meeting is held. Patients have been allowed to try different strains of medical marijuana at the meetings to try out which marijuana strain best ameliorates their specific symptoms.
How else would a patient know if a strain works for them? Heflin said.
At issue is how local law enforcement intends to respond to the Traverse City Medical Marijuana Ordinance. Club members believe that patient-to-patient transfers are allowed by the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act because it defines medical use as the transfer to treat or alleviate a registered patients debilitating condition. The issue hasnt come up in any Michigan court case to date.
The state law was approved by 63% of the voters in a 2008 public referendum.
INTENT OF THE LAW
Representatives of the club and their lawyer plan to discuss the legality of the citys new local medical marijuana ordinance with local enforcement officials and the prosecutor.
The intent of the law is to prevent a medical marijuana patients arrest. Before this state law was passed, anyone who was using cannabis as a medicine could not use it as a defense, Heflin said.
The city ordinance, which took effect on August 26, allows for medical marijuana collectives in most of the citys commercial districts, although growing marijuana isnt allowed. It was modeled around the rules that had been established by the Compassion Club.
The city ordinance was hammered out by a Planning Commission committee that agreed the collectives would be located in a commercial district.
Heflin likens the collectives to a farm market, where local patients who grow medicine can safely transfer medicine to local patients.
This collective is better than a dispensary. It creates a sustainable, local supply of medicine. The cannabis doesnt come from Mexico, it doesnt come from criminals, and it prevents the black market from having access.
The ordinance was approved with a 4-3 vote, including a yes vote by Ralph Soffredine, a former Traverse City police chief.
Plamondon believes that the prosecutors are joining in lockstep to stop the collectives, and are using the same talking points. There is some evidence, he asserted, that conservatives officials in the state government want large commercial greenhouse operations to grow the marijuana crop, as opposed to allowing homespun collectives such as the one in Traverse City.