Ypsilanti Medical Marijuana Dispensary First in the State to Receive a Dispensary License

Monday, June 13, 2011

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Ypsilanti - Michigan -- An Ypsilanti medical marijuana dispensary is the first in the state to receive a dispensary license from a local municipality.

The 3rd Coast Compassion Center, which was also the state’s first medical marijuana dispensary to open its doors in late 2009, received its license from the City of Ypsilanti in May.

The dispensary is located at the corner of Hamilton and Pearl Streets. Because the club was open prior to the city establishing zoning ordinances and a licensing process, it was the first allowed to submit to its application for a license.

Whether or not dispensaries are legal operations has been at the center of a debate since the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act was approved by 63 percent of voters in November 2008. Opponents say there is nothing in the law that allows the centers to exist, while medical marijuana advocates contend they are acting within the law and nothing in the act says they can’t operate.

Dispensaries are not required to be licensed per state law, and such regulatory decisions have been left to local municipalities.

In Ypsilanti Township, there are zoning ordinances in place but no licensing ordinances or procedures. Saline barred possession or sale of medical marijuana last summer. In Ann Arbor, the City Council is expected to vote tonight on a new ordinance that caps the number of dispensaries the city will license at 20. Ann Arbor officials recently decided they don't want to license cultivation facilities or home-grow operations.

Jamie Lowell, who founded 3rd Coast with Darrell Stavros, said “the spirit and intent of the law” is to provide people who use medical marijuana as a legitimate form of health care with uninterrupted access.

3rd Coast and other dispensaries operate by allowing member caregivers and patients to bring their excess cannabis to the club, which is then made available to other patients. No marijuana is grown on the premises, and Lowell said all transactions are small and well within the parameters of the law.

3rd Coast is a private club and no longer has a doctor on site who issues medical marijuana cards to patients. People must demonstrate that they are a licensed caregiver or patient, Lowell said, and 3rd Coast helps patients determine which cannabis strain and method of ingestion is best suited to manage their ailment.

A massage therapist is on site several days a week and the club shares the former funeral parlor with a retail shop offering equipment for ingesting medical marijuana. 3rd Coast is a member of the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers and politically active in advocating for medical marijuana patients' rights.

The club holds itself to a higher standard than what is set by the law, Lowell said, which is part of the reason it has flourished.

Lowell said the dispensary supports the idea of licensing the facilities and is generally pleased with the city's ordinances and regulations. Several city officials and council members discussed medical marijuana issues with Stavros, Lowell and others involved in the industry prior to developing ordinances.

“Charge us for doing this like you may for another entity,” Lowell said. “Do it so that everyone wins … and at the heart of it let’s help the patient.”

Lowell said he appreciated that the city did its due diligence in researching the issue and that Ypsilanti chose to embrace the medical marijuana industry, which he says offers communities significant economic benefits.

“If a municipality chooses to use the law as Ypsilanti has, they get businesses in buildings that have been vacant, jobs are created, it brings in people from out of town who use other businesses like restaurants, it brings in a little money for the city because of license costs, crime is reduced, and they do that all by way of helping patients with their health care,” Lowell said. “This is a great way of doing it and I believe we demonstrated that in Ypsi.”

Lowell said Ypsilanti’s ordinances and regulations were good for business, but he expressed concern with some of the issues related to inspections of residential grow operations in the city’s ordinances.

“I do care about that,” Lowell said. “That’s something I care about more than being just an operator of 3rd Coast. I’m a supporter of this law and advocate for patients more than anything else.”

Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber said he wasn't aware of any issues with the dispensary.

"Nothing has come to city council, so that's good news," he said.

As of May 6, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs reports 75,522 registered patients in the state — around three times the figure from a year ago.

Four other dispensaries have also been issued license in Ypsilanti, meaning five are legally operating in the city.

Tom Perkins/annarbor.com