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Law

The big push

A planned 'compassion center' could test medical pot law

MT Photo: Travis R. Wright
Holice P. Wood and John Sinclair
MT Photo: Curt Guyette
Third Coast’s Ypsi “compassion center.”
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WDET interviews Curt Guyette about this story (MP3)
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Published 3/24/2010

John Sinclair's long strange trip is taking another twist

Arrested in 1969 for giving two joints to an undercover narc, the poet, writer and political activist paid a heavy price for assuming a high profile in the counterculture of the 1960s. Sentenced to 10 years, he served 29 months in prison — attracting widespread attention and a slew of high-profile supporters, most famously the late John Lennon — before the Michigan Supreme Court heard his appeal and ruled the state's marijuana law was unconstitutional.

Now, at an age when most people have retired, he's about to join the vanguard again, preparing to help push the envelope of the state's medical marijuana law as he and a group of fellow travelers prepare to open what will be Detroit's first "compassion center."

Planned for the city's Eastern Market, the center is envisioned to become a place where patients can buy and consume pot in the company of others — without having to worry about getting hauled away in handcuffs.

"A place of fellowship," is how Sinclair describes the vision. "A place where people can get their medicine, relax, enjoy music. You have to have good music."

A few years ago, such a plan might have been written off as some stoner pipe dream. But when 63 percent of Michigan's voters passed the ballot measure known as Prop. 1 in 2008, the seeds of change were planted. The law allowed individuals with a doctor's recommendation to legally grow and buy pot. It also said that registered caregivers, who could have as many as five patients, could grow up to 12 plants for each patient.

Nearly a year after the state officially began accepting applications from prospective patients, businesses associated with medical marijuana are budding everywhere.

There are doctors' clinics that specialize in writing the recommendations necessary to obtain a patient card issued by the state's Department of Community Health. There are entrepreneurs who will teach neophytes how to successfully tend cannabis crops. Some carpenters and plumbers are beginning to specialize in building "grow rooms" and installing indoor irrigation systems, creating jobs for skilled tradesmen hard hit by the collapse of the housing market. Business is booming for garden shops that sell grow lights and other supplies indoor operations need. Publications like the Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine — a glossy monthly packed with ads — are springing up. Flip through this or any recent issue of Metro Times and you'll see an abundance of the same type of ads.

In a state with a 15 percent unemployment rate, the law has been a financial blessing to many. From a business perspective, it represents a market that is expanding at a mind-boggling pace.

To date, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), 20,665 applications have been received since April 6, 2009, with nearly 11,000 patient cards being issued. Nearly 4,700 caregivers have been registered as well. But those numbers don't fully convey the deluge of interest in recent months. Six months ago, the department was receiving 400 applications a week from prospective caregivers and patients; that number is now at 1,000 a week. Instead of processing these applications within 20 days, as the law proscribes, it is taking about five times that long.

What is quickly becoming a significant issue is how authorities will deal with dispensary-like operations where patients can go to purchase pot from people who aren't their designated caregivers. Earlier this year, Ypsilanti's Third Coast Seed Co. became the first enterprise to openly establish a members-only club where medical marijuana is sold.

The reason that's just now happening, at least in part, is that the law Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved doesn't directly address such an enterprise.

Certain aspects of that law are clearly spelled out. If you are a patient who has received a doctor's recommendation, then you can legally possess as much as 2.5 ounces of marijuana. You can grow as many as 12 plants at a time to provide your own medicine, or you can obtain it elsewhere — from another patient, from your designated caregiver, or from an illegal dealer. It doesn't matter. The law was crafted with the idea that legitimate patients should have no obstacles standing between them and their medicine.

The law is also clear about core aspects regarding caregivers. They can grow as many as 12 plants for each patient, and can have up to five patients. If a caregiver also is a patient, that means they can have as many as 72 plants growing at any one time. With each plant producing an ounce or more of the potent bud that gets smoked, growers planting the maximum number of plants allowed under the law can realistically expect to harvest several pounds every few months.

With medical-grade marijuana selling for between $200 and $400 when bought by the ounce, and as much as $650 an ounce when sold in gram-sized increments, which is the way it is done at Third Coast, there is clearly money to be made.

As many people are quick to point out, though, much more involved than just money.

Above all else are the patients — people whose very real suffering compelled Michigan voters to join what is now a total of 14 states in recognizing that marijuana serves a legitimate medicinal purpose.

But along with the true patients, there are recreational users who are taking advantage of the new law to grow or buy weed without breaking the law. Along with specific qualifying conditions specified in the law — debilitating afflictions such as cancer, MS and AIDS — there is the catchall of "chronic pain" that, with a bit of effort, allows those determined enough to obtain a card to succeed with the assistance of a compliant doctor.

There's also the fact that the law contains what have been described as "gray areas" that have yet to be tested in court. The most significant of these involve the idea that caregivers can, at a price, provide excess product to other caregivers and patients can sell to other patients. Both of those concepts are key to legally operating the kind of cooperative venture planned for Detroit.

Also likely to be tested in court are efforts by some jurisdictions to pass preemptive ordinances that will keep businesses like the one already existing in Ypsilanti and the one being planned for Detroit from opening in their communities.

And then there are people such as Sinclair and Wood, longtime smokers who see passage of the law as a significant step forward, a step they have happily embraced, but still one that falls short of the desired goal of having pot legalized.

There is still much sorting out to be done. But that isn't stopping people from taking the leap into a future that isn't completely certain.

One of them is a guy we'll call Sam.


In from the cold

Sam doesn't want his real name used for a straightforward reason: For the past three decades he's been growing pot illegally.

In that regard, it was a matter of a family tradition rolling forward. His father grew pot, and, although he tried to dissuade Sam from following in his footsteps, the son did what teenagers often do and ignored Dad's advice.

He'd taken up gardening while still a kid, and found he had a knack for it. At one point he realized that if he could grow tomatoes, he could also produce the pot he began smoking as a teenager.

He eventually became what he calls a "guerilla grower," sneaking onto the farms of southeastern Michigan under the cover of night to plant his illegal crop. It was a risky business, transporting his seedlings to rural locales and then returning monthly to tend them.

"I'd do it between 3 and 4:30 a.m." he says. "Nobody — and I mean nobody — is up at that time."

There was always the risk of getting caught. And with that risk came stress, but there was also an undeniable thrill that came from sneaking through fields in the dead of night.

The time came, though, when all that risk taking caught up with him. Police raided his home, seizing four of his vehicles and "most of the contents of my house." He was charged with felony drug trafficking, but the charges were eventually dropped when a judge learned that the raid on his house was conducted without a warrant. Still, his freedom came at a cost of about $15,000 in lawyers' fees.

Now in his 40s, Sam lives in the metro Detroit area, where he runs a small business. He doesn't want to be any more specific than that. Years of trying to stay below law enforcement's radar have made him a wary man.

Until recently, he says, he had never even typed the word "marijuana" into his computer's search engine, afraid that doing so might draw the attention of some government agency that could be monitoring Web traffic.

Even so, he's taking the risk of talking with a reporter because he wants people to understand — even though he knows it is difficult for nonsmokers to comprehend — that it was never all about the money. He truly enjoys the growing of pot, and then enjoying the fruits of his labor. Not just the mind-altering effects, but also savoring its smell and flavor, the way wine connoisseurs relish sipping a vintage cabernet.

Which is why, even after the expense of fighting the felony arrest and having his property seized, and after a couple of drug-related misdemeanor arrests — he continued his guerrilla forays into fields under the cover of dark.

Early on in his career, he says, 100 percent of his income came from growing and selling pot. After his bust he scaled operations way back, but continued to grow enough for himself and a small, tight-knit circle of friends.

As Sam talks, sitting on the kitchen table is a quart-size mason jar filled with the bud that he has grown. A half-smoked joint sits nearby. His modest home is infused with the incense-like fragrance of smoked weed.

With hair that drops down to his chest when not pulled back in a ponytail, he has the air of a '60s flower child. He's proud of his skill as a grower, and of the high quality of the aromatic bud that he produces.

After years of hiding his guerilla growing from virtually everyone he knew, Sam is on the verge of stepping into the legal world of medical marijuana. He's applied to be both a registered patient and a caregiver. Already, he says, more people want to designate him to be a caregiver than he can legally handle.

Shoulder and knee pain qualified him for the patient card, he says. Asked if he really needs pot to deal with the problem, his answer is canny: "Not necessarily," he says, then adds, "but that doesn't necessarily mean I don't need it."

This much is certain though: "Either way, I would be smoking."

His ambiguity regarding the medical necessity of his pot smoking reveals an important fact about the effects of the law's implementation: A certain percentage of people getting their cards are doing so simply because it allows them to smoke recreationally without having to worry about getting busted.

The same can be said, at least to some extent, about people who are growers obtaining their caregiver cards, says Sam.

Under the law, for someone to qualify as a caregiver, they must first have at least one person who will go on record as their patient. Once they are legally established — and don't have much worry that their grow will be raided — they can always sell surplus product on the black market.

"I'm sure there are people who are doing that," he says.

His intent, however, is to become strictly legal. What his patients don't buy — what's referred to as "overage" — he plans to sell to operations such as the one being run by Ypsilanti's Third Coast Seed Co. and the planned compassion center Sinclair and Wood are preparing to open in Detroit.

"That ability to sell our overage, that will be like our bonus check," says Sam.

Unlike other aspects of the law, however, the ability to do so is not clearly defined.

"That's a legal theory at this point," says Detroiter Tim Beck, a marijuana activist who worked with lawyers from Lansing's prestigious Dykema law firm to craft the language in the ballot measure that voters approved in 2008.

At some point, Beck and others expect, that theory will be tested in court.

Sam realizes that coming in from the cold world of the black market — identifying himself to the state as both a smoker and a grower — carries a risk if he follows through with the plan to peddle the overage to other caregivers.

"The question," he says, "is, 'How do you stretch the money-making aspect while staying within the parameters of the law?'"

By his calculation, after overhead is deducted, he could net as much as $65,000 a year legally doing something he loves.

That number could be lower if the price of "product" comes down. There are already people selling high-grade pot for as little as $200 an ounce. But Sam is fine with that.

And though apprehensive about what the future might hold, he also feels liberated.

"I'm not sure what's going to happen, but me and some others are willing to stick our necks out and take a chance. But then again, that's something we've been doing for a long time."


Public spirit

Just how much things have already changed as a result of Prop. 1's passage was made clear on a recent Wednesday evening in Detroit.

A woman who goes by the moniker Ms. Chocolate was holding a compassion club meeting in Detroit. About 20 people were in attendance. Nearly all were there to learn about the law and what they needed to do obtain their patient cards.

What makes this meeting particularly notable is its location: the Sherwood Forest branch of the Detroit Public Library on the city's west side.

Think about that for a moment: A group of prospective pot smokers gathering to talk openly about using marijuana in a public library.

Along with providing information, Ms. Chocolate is looking to make some sales. It's not weed she's peddling, though. She has copies of the latest issue of Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine — which features an "exclusive interview" with rapper Snoop Dogg on the cover. She informs attendees that the library has just agreed to put a copy of the publication at its magazine rack so patrons can peruse it for free. Also available in the library's reference section is a copy of a recipe book she wrote so that those who want to make marijuana-infused foods will also have that resource available to them.

Those who would like a copy to take home can purchase one from Ms. Chocolate for $15. Sales help provide her with "gas money," she says.

Over the course of 90 minutes, she covers much ground. The presentation is no-nonsense, with an emphasis on the practical. As evidenced by the cookbook, she is particularly knowledgeable about the issue of how to take medication without having to light up a joint.

She cautions those who want to try that approach to not make the mistake of having an entire meal comprised of marijuana-laced dishes.

"You don't want to have a meal of medicated meatloaf with medicated mac and cheese with medicated cornbread," she says.

She also points out that, unlike smoking, mixing medication with food results in a delayed reaction. Instead of the instant effect obtained when smoked, pot, when eaten, takes about a half hour to kick in. The upside — in addition to avoiding the harmful aspects of smoke — is that the effects can last longer.

She also explains how different strains of pot produce different results. "Indica will knock you on your butt," she says. "Sativa will keep you up. So you have to be aware of what you are using."

In that regard, choosing a knowledgeable caregiver is important. Noting that it was likely that there were a few caregivers in attendance (there were), Ms. Chocolate told the prospective patients that if someone approaches you, "Don't be too quick to sign up. You want to make sure the two of you are compatible."

Find out if they grow themselves, she says, because not all of them do. "You don't want street-grade," she warns. And beware of prospective caregivers who are just looking at patients as a source of income. "A lot of people," she says, "are only looking at this as a cash cow."

And even though these meetings are a place for patients and caregivers to hook up, any actual trading, selling or use of seeds, plant clones or medicine is absolutely forbidden.

This is, after all, a library.

"And, let's be honest," she adds. "We don't really know who is here. We don't know who might be a cop, who might be DEA."

Or, for that matter, a reporter. In this case though, that reporter announces his presence, and asks at the end how many people showed up to learn about becoming patients. The results of this quick survey, and several conversations that take place once the meeting breaks up, give some clue as to just how many people aren't looking at this law as a way to get high for fun.

Three of the people need canes to get around. Even some of the particularly fit-looking people have serious problems, several as the result of auto accidents that caused painful back and neck injuries. One after another gives testimony to the fact that they find pot a superior alternative to opiate-based prescription drugs such as Vicodin and Oxycontin.

One man, a 52-year-old former security guard who says he's still suffering the effects of an auto accident that occurred nine years ago, explains, "There's a lot of people like me who don't like to take pills. The marijuana just works better. If it wasn't for that weed, I'd be in a world of trouble."

He says he's come to this meeting because he's interested in learning how to grow his own medicine. There's also a 40-year-old former teacher — the victim of a car accident involving a drunk driver — who says he's in so much pain he can't concentrate. Prescription medicines don't do the trick. "I'm just trying to find the right way to control this pain," he says.

There is at least one caregiver here on this night. A recreational smoker, he used to grow his own pot but stopped several years ago because he found it too "paranoia-inducing."

Tall and slender, neatly dressed and well spoken, he says that he began growing again last year. "The day it became legal, I had my paperwork in," he says. He has one patient — a family member who has AIDS. He's at the meeting to "screen" potential patients.

He's looking for two or three additional patients with "legitimate health issues," he says. He's also looking for people he thinks he'll be compatible with. "That's important," he says, "because if I take someone on as a patient, that ties me to them, both legally and beyond that. I'm responsible for making sure they get their medicine."

That medicine is grown in a closet-sized space at his home in Detroit. He says his intent is to "keep the price under the street value." One thing he finds interesting since the law has been implemented is the number of "middlemen seeking to make a fast buck off of sick people."

As for himself, he has no intention of applying for a patient card. The way he sees it, the caregiver status provides enough cover to keep him protected. He's allowed to legally grow and possess the weed, so the chances of getting busted for using, he thinks, are remote.


Growing smaller

One of the reasons that caregiver has little fear of being arrested is that the Michigan law was written with the intent of keeping production limited to a small scale, says Detroit activist Beck.

The idea of maintaining a ratio of one caregiver to every five patients, and limiting the total number of plants any one person could grow to 72, was that such operations wouldn't be large enough to warrant the attention of federal drug agents.

Hard-line conservative George W. Bush was still president at the time and, no matter how many states might make medical marijuana legal, its cultivation, sale and possession remain a federal crime.

The Obama administration has promised to honor state laws, but that could change if he's voted out in a few years. Whatever the attitude of the person occupying the White House, explains Beck, the crafters of Michigan law wanted to do everything they could to limit the likelihood that black-helmeted Drug Enforcement Agency teams would be kicking down the doors of Michiganders only interested in providing medicine to a handful of patients each.

Which is why, he says, California-style dispensaries — where any card-holding patient can walk into a storefront business and purchase pot — were not included in the Michigan law.

"If nobody's making big money, then you are not going to attract the feds," explains Beck. "Some dispensaries in California are making millions of dollars. We didn't want to do anything like that so we could avoid inviting the DEA to come in and destroy the ability of people to get the medicine they need."

Instead, the crafters of the law envisioned enabling people like Cathy Hinkle, a caregiver, patient and activist who lives in the small town of Mio in Oscoda County.

Hinkle, in a phone interview, says she saw addiction to prescription drugs decimate the body and eventually kill one close family member. She saw alcohol ruin the life of another.

Collecting unemployment after being laid off from a factory job, she suffers from hepatitis C and a form of muscular dystrophy, both of which are conditions the state's medical marijuana act covers. In addition to serving as president of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Education and Defense Organization, she's also a caregiver. She says she charges patients $200 an ounce for their medicine, and bristles at the idea that some people are charging as much as $500 an ounce.

"Those people are giving the whole thing a bad name," she says. "For some people, it's all about the money."

As part of her role as an activist, she fields calls from patients who say they are illegally being harassed by cops,

"There is," she says, "a lot of ignorance out there on the part of law enforcement."

Hinkle seems like exactly the kind of person activist Beck says the law was intended to address, both as a caregiver and a patient: someone who operates on a small scale, only recovering what it costs her to produce and deliver medicine to her patients.

"The DEA doesn't have the resources to root out small medical providers," he adds. "So we intentionally created a system of small operators. In no way, shape of form was this designed for people to make big money. Just the opposite."

That's also why activists in the state's medical marijuana movement railed against proposed legislation introduced last year by state Sen. Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland). Kuipers' bill attempted to, in part, mandate that medical marijuana production be limited to 10 state-approved operations.

One problem with that is such large-scale efforts would be easy targets "if another jihadist like Bush gets elected," says Beck.

Kuipers also proposes making doctors write prescriptions for medical marijuana instead of just making recommendations, as the current law dictates. One problem with the senator's proposal in this case is that federal law prohibits doctors from prescribing pot.

As Beck notes, the Kuipers bill has virtually no chance of gaining approval because the medical marijuana law, which became a statute through the ballot process, can only be amended by a three-quarters majority in both the state House and Senate.

"That kind of majority is almost impossible to get," says Beck. "Kuipers knows that. He's just grandstanding because he's running for Congress in a conservative district and he's trying to get votes by making it look like he's tough on drugs. But he can't be serious about actually getting anything done."

While certain of the futility of Kuipers' efforts, Beck isn't so sure there'll being widespread acceptance of efforts to duplicate the Third Coast Seed Co. model.


Club cannabis

Jaime Lowell and Darrell Stavros sit around a small oval table in a second floor office at the "compassion center" they helped launch in downtown Ypsilanti at the start of this year.

The run-of-the-mill building, which looks like an old house, formerly provided office space for a mortgage company. It seems somehow fitting that one facet of the housing market collapse has been replaced by a business that appears to have the trajectory of a rocket taking off.

And the guys at the Third Coast Seed Co. have gotten in at the earliest of stages.

In terms of the business they've opened, they are doing in the open what they say 30 or 40 others are doing surreptitiously.

And what they are doing is helping provide pot to certified patients who haven't necessarily designated anyone at this private, members-only club as their caregivers.

When it's suggested that they are operating in a gray area of the law, Lowell and Stavros disagree. They say the law clearly allows the sort of patient-to-patient transfers that occur here.

Prices — posted on a menu — range from $8 to $25 a gram. At the top end, that translates to as much as $650 an ounce. To critics who carp about that kind of premium price, Lowell and Stavros point out that their business comes with the kind of overhead that caregivers growing a small number of plants don't have to deal with.

On the table in the office where Lowell and Stavros sit down with a reporter, there is a scale and a label maker used to designate the small packets of weed that have names like "Super Silver Haze." Bits of bright-green pot fleck the table. Empty mason jars, which help keep product fresh and moist, line the shelves of an open closet.

But don't get the wrong impression.

"We don't have rooms full of bales of pot," says Lowell, a 42-year-old former real estate appraiser.

What they've done, Lowell explains, is create an alternative way for legally designated patients to conveniently obtain the medicine they need. It doesn't replace the patient-caregiver relationship spelled out in the law, he says. Rather, it "supplements" it.

It ends up being a situation where everybody wins. Patients get easy access to medicine. The downtown gets an economic boost in the form of increased foot traffic and a business occupying a formerly vacant building. And Lowell and Stavros get what they hope will be a viable business.

As part of that model, they rent out space in their building to what most would call a head shop but what Lowell refers to as an "alternative medical equipment" outlet, where customers can purchase hand-blown glass pipes and other paraphernalia.

A company selling grow lights has a display in the lobby. And a firm looking to specialize in providing security systems for growing operations has set up shop there as well. Everyone working in the building has a patient card, says Lowell.

Cost of becoming a member of the club is $12 a year. Lowell and Stavros don't want to say for the record how many members they've attracted so far. "We don't want to give fuel to anyone who might want to screw with us," offers Lowell by way of explanation.

Along with running their club, they also spend time visiting other municipalities, attempting to ease any concerns officials elsewhere might have about a similar operation opening in their town.

If they are right in their assertion, and this club is completely legal, then what they are doing here will be duplicated in other towns. And, in fact, that is already happening, with similar high-visibility clubs springing up in Ann Arbor, Williamston and Traverse City within the past month or so.

The flip side of that equation are municipalities such as Livonia, which in December amended a zoning ordinance to include a ban on enterprises that are contrary to local, state or federal laws. The key word there is federal, because anything having to do with the production, sale or use of marijuana is illegal. A handful of other municipalities have either considering or have passed similar ordinances.

The legal director of the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union, Michael Steinberg, says his group is keeping a close eye on the situation to make sure that these laws aren't used to keep legitimate patients from having access to the medicine as provided for in the state law.

Detroit attorney Matt Abel, who has a long career built around defending people accused of marijuana-related crimes, says his phone is ringing off the hook these days. Along with the usual types of clients, he's daily fielding calls from people seeking his consultation on how to set up marijuana-related businesses.

(The prospect that Californians will approve a ballot measure that completely legalizes pot in that state has medical marijuana growers there increasingly looking to Michigan as a new market, since, as one West Coast grower recently told Metro Times, Michigan "is considered virgin territory.")

The Third Coast model, Abel says, certainly appears to have the law on its side. Informed as it is, though, his opinion is just that — an opinion. As with attempts by some cities to pass ordinances attempting to keep marijuana-related businesses out of their towns, no one will know with complete certainty what is legal and what is not unless a case ends up in front of a judge.

That's a possibility Sinclair and Wood say they — with the help of Lowell and Stavros and others — are preparing to face as they pursue plans to open a compassion center in Detroit's Eastern Market.


Two sides of a coin

Sitting down to breakfast at a Coney Island restaurant in Eastern Market, Sinclair and Wood — who say they've been close friends for a dozen years or more — are a contrast in styles. In his early 40s, Wood, with jet-black hair pulled back in a ponytail and Jack Nicholson's expressive eyebrows, is a compact bundle of intense energy.

Sinclair, at 68, is low-key and relaxed, easily working his way through a New York Times crossword puzzle in between talking with us and digging into an omelet with double feta cheese.

As they discuss plans for their venture, Wood focuses on organizational plans, gathering together what will be — at least initially — a collective of 10 caregiver-growers who will form the heart of this enterprise. He's the nuts-and-bolts logistics guy.

Sinclair, who's spent much of his time in Amsterdam in recent years, is the philosopher.

Both have long been unapologetic pot smokers, disdainful of any law that tries to tell them what they can or cannot do when it comes to what they choose to inhale or consume.

But now Sinclair has already obtained his patient's card, and Wood is waiting for the state to process his application to become both a patient and registered caregiver.

Both also think pot should be legal, period, regardless of why someone wants to use it. But the medical marijuana law, they say, has created a giant crack in the decades-old effort to demonize weed, and they are going to take advantage of that opening.

"I've always thought of pot as medicinal," says Sinclair. "I don't know how anyone could handle the nightmare of post-industrial society without it."

There's a mischievous gleam behind the lenses of his wire-rimmed glasses when he talks, saying with a grin, "I like being a patient. I might be a sick motherfucker, but I'm not a criminal any more."

Wood, on the other hand, seems more fueled by outrage over some outside force trying to dictate how he lives his life.

Both vent about what Sinclair describes as the "massive police apparatus" that has been fed by the war on drugs for the past 40 years.

And while Wood has spent hours working out the potential costs associated with their planned compassion center, Sinclair says with complete believability, "I don't look at it as a business."

This is coming from a man who spent nearly two-and-half years in a maximum security prison, vilified as a danger to society and denied bond while his case was being appealed, all because he handed a few grams' worth of plant to an undercover narcotics officer.

And yet, as they sit here, it is with the realization that they will soon be testing the limits of Michigan's medical marijuana law. Wood says he's already given a copy of his house key to a friend, with instructions on how to care for his pets and a list of people to call if he ends up getting arrested.

They have chosen the place where they are going to make their stand, in a building not far from this restaurant.

It will be a place where people can purchase and consume the medicine Michigan's voters have said they are legally entitled to use. A place where they can learn to grow that medicine for themselves. A place where they can relax and listen to music and enjoy the fellowship of other patients.

How the Detroit Police and the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office will respond isn't known. The authorities themselves don't seem to have figured out how to handle a situation they haven't yet had to confront.

"Our office has attended trainings offered by the Prosecuting Attorney's Association of Michigan on medical marijuana and related issues," Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement e-mailed to Metro Times. "We plan on participating in future trainings and then formulating a policy on this issue."

And while Worthy formulates a policy, Sinclair and Wood are forging ahead with their plan, making no apologies for expecting to get paid in return for investing themselves in this venture, and for taking the risk that comes with testing the law's limits.

"For me, as a business guy, I don't expect the payoff to be huge," says Wood. "This isn't easy money. But it's about more than just the money for us."

"When we talk about this being a compassion center," says Sinclair, "that's not just some semantic trick" to distinguish what we're doing from establishing a dispensary. "There is a true ideological side to what we are doing."

It is also, he says, about "not having to go sneak into some alley anymore if I want to smoke. [In the 1960s] I set out to challenge the law and ended up in prison for it. I went through some severe shit for smoking some weed, but I succeeded in challenging the constitutionality of the laws that were in place at that time."

This time around, he says, "We're not looking for trouble. Just the opposite. We're trying to take the trouble out of this whole thing."

"The thing is," says Wood, "there are some of us who are stepping up to define this law before someone else defines it for us."

Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-804 or cguyette@metrotimes.com.

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