Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 9, 2013

Court: Pot shops can't charge for product


TRAVERSE CITY — Michigan's Supreme Court ruled that medical marijuana users can't buy their medicine at pot shops, a decision that could shut down Traverse City and Acme businesses set up for such transactions.

Traverse City Police Capt. Brian Heffner said five marijuana shops in Traverse City allow the sale of medical marijuana from caregivers to patients. Typically owners take about a 20 percent cut in sales to help pay the store's overhead, Heffner said.

Heffner plans to meet with Traverse City medical marijuana shop owners and explain that police will not allow them to operate outside of the Supreme Court ruling.

"What that means is they cannot charge for the marijuana they're selling," Heffner said. "Ultimately they'll have to make a decision to gratuitously supply patients with marijuana or shut down."

Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley said he'll look into the Acme shop, Great Lakes Helping Hands, and possibly get in touch with the Traverse Narcotics Team.

"Nothing says they can't be there," he said. "It's the transactions that could be a violation."

Traverse City Mayor Mike Estes called the court decision a "setback in common sense," adding that state voters approved marijuana for medical use.

"The worst thing is for the city commission to overreact," Estes said. "The issue is pretty much in the hands of the state of Michigan right now. I guess they're going to have to come forward and tell us what they want us to do."

Estes believes the ruling doesn't necessarily translate into an enforcement issue.

"It's all up in the air as far as I'm concerned," he said.

He said the city hasn't experienced problems with the marijuana dispensaries, which he said are well-regulated and monitored.

"This is not a scenario where someone is coming off the street as they might in Amsterdam," he said.

The 4-1 court decision Friday is the most significant court ruling since voters approved marijuana for certain illnesses in 2008. It means the state's 126,000 approved users must grow their own pot or have a state-licensed caregiver grow it for them.

The state appeals court declared dispensaries illegal in 2011, but enforcement has depended on the attitudes of local authorities. Some communities, including Traverse City, took a hands-off approach while waiting for the Supreme Court to make the decision.

The case involves a Mount Pleasant dispensary that allowed medical-marijuana users to sell pot to each other. Isabella County shut it down as a public nuisance.

The decision likely will hit Mike Hedden, who owns three area dispensaries, particularly hard. Hedden was featured in a Record-Eagle article after opening the 223 State Street Boutique & Compassion Center in Traverse City, which sells fine art, along with providing a place for marijuana transactions between caregivers and patients.

A reporter visited the East State Street shop on Friday; an employee stated Hedden would not comment.

Dispensaries and collectives popped up across Michigan after the state's medical marijuana act passed in 2008. The act allows patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and 12 plants, and permits designated caregivers to grow and distribute plants to up to five patients.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.