Only weeks after voting to prohibit commercial recreational marijuana interests, Saline City Council is considering a proposal for a medical marijuana dispensary.
A group of metro-Detroit pharmacists Hassan Ismail, Abraham Hajar and another individual. They currently are partners in the Family Drugs Partnership Group, which owns several pharmacies in and around Dearborn and Detroit. The group is calling their business Total Herbal Care. They do not currently operate a medical marijuana business.
Represented by former State Sen. Randy Richardville, they made their pitch to city council.
Richardville started by stating his opposition to the recreational marijuana proposal passed by voters in November. He then said he recommended council vote to “opt out” of commercial marijuana businesses – which council already did.
For years, Richardville believed many of the medical marijuana initiatives were designed to allow get access to the drug for people who wanted it for recreational purposes. But he began talking to more and people with real stories about the ways medical marijuana improved their lives. Those people sounded a lot like Ruth Loomis, a Saline resident who spoke at the outset of Monday’s meeting. Loomis, who many Salinians know from the Cheese Shop of Saline, lives with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. She uses a walker to get around and can’t drive. Her husband works long hours at the cheese shop downtown.
“It’s depressing to me to not have a dispensary that I’m able to go to easily here,” Loomis told council.
She said she hoped city leaders would take the time to learn about medical marijuana. She had her own preconceived notions about medical marijuana – and then she started looking into it to treat her condition.
“I came from a generation when my parents taught me that marijuana was a street drug – that it was bad. I had a very difficult time when my finally neurologist slammed down the paper work because none of the pharmaceuticals were working and they were making me worse,” Loomis said. “I went and studied (medical marijuana) like mad and my jaw started dropping because there was all this science on this. It’s not just the lore.”
Loomis equated use of the drug to drinking alcohol and noted that bars and liquor stores operate all over the country.
Richardville said Total Herbal Care was the only group he would represent on the medical marijuana issue. He noted they are professional pharmacists.
“If you want to have legitimate medical marijuana business, this is the only kind I would support. If you walk into this place it would be like walking into a pharmacy or Apple store and explain to you why it’s a top notch, top-shelf medical marijuana facility in the state of Michigan,” Richardville said.
He said he’s always known Saline as a community that does things the right way. He said as medical marijuana goes – Total Herbal Care was an example of the right way to do it.
“You can be a bright light for the rest of the state of Michigan when it comes to serving people who have a legitimate medical need,” Richardville said. “I’ve seen some provisioning centers that I would not have recommended for Saline.”
Abraham Hajar did most of the speaking for Total Herbal Care. He went over historical facts and anecdotes about the medicinal value of marijuana. He said the drug is currently commonly used to treat people with cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease and more. Perhaps to allay concerns the drug would become to easily available, he said the drug can only be prescribed to people with “debilitating” health concerns that must be diagnosed by a physician with a proven physician-patient relationship. He said the restrictions were tougher for prescriptions for minors.
Hajar went on to describe the ways a dispensary would provide the municipality with revenue – though, as Councillor Janet Dillon noted, the new recreational marijuana legislation may change the formulas listed in Hajar’s presentation.
Hajar also talked about “diversion control,” – the prevention of drugs from being used illicitly. Hajar said pharmacists are already learning to do this with opioids.
Medical marijuana dispensaries are required to have many security features, including commercial grade alarms and equipment, 24-hour high-resolution cameras, secure communication between the dispensary and transporter, camera surveillance of the loading zones, and more.
Total Herbal Care promised a dispensary that would have the feel of a doctor’s office or pharmacy with clean lines, light colors and extra lighting. Hajar said marijuana would not be consumed on premises.
The company would start with four trained employees and expand to at least six, Hajar said. He said the company does not yet have a location in mind.
Councillors asked questions of Hajar. Answering a question from Councillor Heidi McClelland, Hajar said there would be no plans to ever transform into a recreational marijuana dispensary.
Councillor Janet Dillon asked who is responsible for if someone were to have a negative reaction to the dosage.
Hajar said that his recommendation would always be to start with a low dose and then work your way up to a dosage that works for the medical issue. He said the “overdoses” are unheard of with medical marijuana. In fact, he said, communities that allow medical marijuana see a rapid decline in opioid use and see fewer deaths caused by opioids.
Councillor Linda TerHaar asked how the strength of the crop was measured. Hajar said this is done through rigorous testing. He said he’s pleased by the progress the state is making.
“Last week the state issued a recall on marijuana dispensed in Detroit because the strength was mislabeled. It’s tested for potency. If there’s a problem, it’s handled like the FDA handles a recall. It’s very impressive,” he said.
Councillor Girbach asked if dispensaries will mix or compound marijuana drugs, the way pharmacists often do.
Hajar said compounding is not permitted in medical marijuana dispensaries. Marijuana goes straight from the grower, to the testing facility and to the dispensary. It cannot be altered.
Medical marijuana dispensaries are not permitted in the city. The city decided years ago it did not wish to “opt in” on medical dispensaries. Mayor Brian Marl said the city’s legal counsel is working on a memo explaining how the city might go forward if council chooses to allow medical marijuana.