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Medical marijuana a hot button topic


Opening of dispensary in Dryden prompts debate in communities


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Residents protest at the Lapeer County Courthouse after raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in Lapeer and Oakland counties.

December 29, 2010
LAPEER COUNTY — "Free the weed" became the rallying cry this year for local medical marijuana advocates eager to espouse the drug's benefits and various practical applications.

Approved by voters in November 2008 by a margin of 63-37 percent, Michigan's Medical Marihuana Act is considered by many to be vague and subject to wide interpretation.

Nevertheless, the law's passage created business opportunities for growers, hydroponics providers and others hoping to reap from the profits.

Around mid-year, Dryden business owner Randy Crowel quietly opened the Dryden Compassionate Care Center on Main Street downtown.

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Shortly after the dispensary's opening, the staff of Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine organized and hosted "ExtravaGanja," a medical marijuana exposition at the Eastern Michigan Fairgrounds.

Held August 21-22, the two-day event drew fewer attendees than organizers hoped for, but it got the full attention of local law enforcement and those opposed to implementation of the new law.

Soon, Dryden residents and others began taking notice, some of them intent on developing strategies to halt the spread of dispensaries and related businesses.

Local municipalities and townships acted quickly to adopt zoning ordinances and moratoriums restricting the opening and/or operation of dispensaries in their respecting communities.

The following dates and events help highlight what was a tumultuous year for proponents and opponents of medical marijuana.

•On August 31, Lapeer County Sheriff's deputies executed a raid at the Dryden dispensary. No arrests were made and no charges were filed against Crowel or his employees.

•On September 8, deputies obtained a search warrant and raided the dispensary for a second time. This time they confiscated unspecified amounts of marijuana and plants, along with the contents of a safe that reportedly included patient's medical records. Again no arrests were made nor charges filed.

•On September 13, about 200 medical marijuana advocates gathered at the Lapeer County Sheriff's Department to voice displeasure with the raids. Carrying placards and shouting slogans, protesters claimed that Lapeer County law enforcement officials had overstepped their bounds by taking patient records protected by HIPAA (personal privacy) laws.

•On September 21, Lapeer County law enforcement officials applied a "public nuisance" ordinance against the facility and Crowel. The dispensary has since been padlocked and closed to business.

•On December 3, Lapeer Circuit Judge Nick Holowka granted a temporary injunction to Crowel's attorney, Jim Rasor of Royal Oak, further delaying legal proceedings. Assistant Prosecutor Tom Sparrow said the hearing would have afforded three witnesses, including two medical marijuana patients, a chance to testify. Though a follow up hearing date has yet to be scheduled, Sparrow said witnesses could still be compelled to testify at the threat of incarceration.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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