October 21 • 10:34 PM

To grow or not to grow

Medical marijuana industry expert on Almont Twp. meeting agenda

November 01, 2017
ALMONT TWP. — As communities across the state grapple with the decision to tap into the multimillion dollar medical marijuana industry, Paula Givens says it's important to have all the facts.

The Colorado-based attorney will discuss the issue at the November 13 regular meeting of the Almont Township Board.

Givens says she's representing a client who believes that Almont Township would be a good fit for their commercial medical marijuana grow operation—but beyond that she hopes to start a dialogue regarding the law. She'd also like to offer a description of what it might look like to have a medical marijuana facility within the community.

"Individual communities have to come at this from an understanding of the fact that (medical marijuana) is really medicine and it's highly regulated," Givens says. "It's not drug dealing. They have to understand that and then they can imagine whether or not this is safe for their community."

Givens, a former federal attorney, came to the cannabis industry by creating the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). Under the BSA, banks are required report to the federal government any suspected illegal activity which would include any transaction associated with a marijuana business.

She says her experience in the medical marijuana industry is focused on its highly regulated medical marijuana programs.

"I have worked throughout the country on issues of obtaining medical marijuana licenses," she says. "In my background, I have never represented anyone in a drug case. I come at this differently than the attorneys who are traveling around. I come from a compliance and educational viewpoint.

"So many of these lawyers are coming in (to communities) and shoving this down people's throats," Givens continues. "The real truth is this is a deeply personal decision for each community."

Givens says her aim is to educate residents in the community about what a medical marijuana facility looks like, and remind community officials that they have ultimate authority regarding the issue.

"What's really a welcome surprise to these municipalities is the level of control they have over how accepting medical marijuana into their community can look as far as regulations go," she says.

"I throw the facts out there for the community leaders who have to make these tough decisions to educate them and help them understand what this looks like, and then they can determine if that's something they want to embrace or not."

Givens says many people would be surprised to learn that medical marijuana growers already exist within the community, as there are growers in every county in the state. She believes there's a misconception of what medical marijuana facilities look like, and it's a negative one.

"A grower facility where the medical marijuana is actually grown and packaged for shipping is typically located in industrial buildings or on agricultural property," she says. "And most frequently, unless you have other knowledge, most people wouldn't know they are there."

Givens says there are a number of benefits to embracing the medical marijuana industry, including economic growth and jobs.

There are many small towns embracing the industry for economic development," she says. "It's important that people understand that real regulated medical marijuana facilities are filled with professionals doing highly regulated business rather than people dealing drugs."

Givens says she hopes her presentation at the November 13 meeting will start a dialogue between municipal leaders and residents before any decision is made.

"The state says you have a choice if you want this in the community, and no one is going to have one of these facilities shoved down their throat," she says.

"My goal is to come in and educate. To ask the municipality to table a vote on this and hold a public forum so the public can learn about this and make an educated decision."

Voters approved the Medical Marihuana Act in 2008, allowing a single caregiver to grow up to 12 plants for six medical marijuana card holders. There are currently some 240,000 cardholders who use medical marijuana to treat a variety of ailments and illnesses. There are 40,000 licensed caregivers.

Last year, the Legislature passed another law that allows, regulates and taxes medical marijuana, and creates five licensing categories including commercial growers; processors; transporters; testing facilities; and 'provisioning centers,' formerly called dispensaries. Those tax dollars will go to the state and local communities. Applications for licensing in the five categories won't be available until Dec. 15. Early next year the newly created Michigan Medical Marihuana Licensing Board will begin to issue licenses after conducting extensive background searches on the applicants.

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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