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Chesterfield Medical Marijuana Business at Center of State Dispensary Debate

Protesters flocked to downtown Mount Clemens Thursday as Chesterfield Township and the Michigan Attorney General aim to close Big Daddy's Hydroponics on Gratiot.

Outside Macomb County Circuit Court Thursday, medical marijuana protesters gripped signs with slogans like "Fight crime, not sick people" and "It's my right to a quality of life!"

They passionately chanted phrases, such as "Safer than the streets;" "Who's law? My law!" and "Vote green."

Inside the Mount Clemens courthouse that afternoon, Chesterfield Township and the Michigan Attorney General's Office tried to a make a case that Big Daddy's Hydroponics should be shut down on grounds it . Among its roles, Big Daddy's serves as a medical marijuana dispensary, also referred to as a compassion center.

"I believe that the commercial compassion club is not something we want in the township," Chesterfield Township Police Chief Bruce Smith said of Big Daddy's during lengthy testimony in the civil trial before Judge John Foster.

Dispensaries find controversy 

A main focal point of the evidentiary hearing was the legal interpretation of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act passed in November 2008. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a recent news release announcing his involvement in this case that, "local governments have the right to protect their communities from illegal marijuana dispensaries." Assistant Attorney General John R. Wright was present during the hearing to question witnesses.

Meanwhile, protesters Thursday said they felt strongly the act allowed them to utilize dispensaries like Big Daddy's for their medical marijuana needs to help with chronic pain.

"The importance of this case, to me, is that patients should be able to get medicine in a safe manner wherever they choose because the Constitution gives you the freedom of choice and it should be a right to have a quality of life," said medical marijuana cardholder Terry Marentette, 55 of West Branch.

She joined dozens of other protesters because she says medical marijuana has helped alleviate pain from fibromyalgia and other health issues. It's a better alternative than popping several prescription pills daily with uncomfortable side effects, she said.

Medical marijuana activist Robert J. Garner, who's also known as Monkey Pa, said he started using cannabis oil during his previous battle with prostate cancer. He said that this case represents the ability for patients to have safe access to marijuana when they are not able to grow it themselves at home.

"Big Daddy's is supporting sick people every day," Garner, 62 of Mount Clemens, said. "We need to support Big Daddy's."

Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine Editor and Big Daddy’s board member Rick Thompson said, "This protest represents the best opportunity for medical marijuana patients to get justice from a court system that seems to have a hard time finding it.

"But beyond that, this is my livelihood at stake," Thompson said.

Chesterfield Township's lawyer Colleen O'Connor of Seibert & Dloski law firm in Clinton Township declined to comment on the case for this story.

Court hearing brings chief, officer to stand

The court hearing Thursday centered largely on Smith, who testified that Big Daddy's owner Rick Ferris and others from the business met with township officials in late spring 2010. Among the top cop's concerns: Limited patient-to-caregiver ratio didn't seem feasible with the expected clientele, patients allowed to smoke pot in the facility may not have transportation home and crime rates in the community could rise because of the business.

After the township expressed reluctance, Ferris told officials, "Don't try to enact some phony law to keep us from coming here because we're coming in," Smith recalled.

Township police learned that Big Daddy's had indeed set up shop soon after. And, on Dec. 6, 2010, an ordinance banning dispensaries in the community was passed and officially adopted the following month. Big Daddy's argues it didn't need to adhere to the township ordinance that wasn't on the books when the business opened in summer 2010.

Ferris, also known as Big Daddy, said after the hearing, "I still believe that from Day One we were there legally."

Ferris, who says he is also a medical marijuana cardholder, is named as defendant in the suit with wife Sue Ferris, landlord Pasquele Acciavatti and Big Daddy's Management Group. Big Daddy's Oak Park location was forced to close down a few months ago following pending drug possession and conspiracy criminal charges for the Ferrises and two other associates after the Oakland County Sheriff's Office raided the facility.

When Chesterfield Township police officer Harry Otal took the stand, Big Daddy's Royal Oak-based lawyer James Rasor accused township attorney O'Connor of conducting improper discovery for the lawsuit through police officers who stopped clients of the dispensary. O'Connor denied doing so and the judge told Rasor he would have to file a separate complaint if he wished to pursue that matter outside the hearing.

During the officer's testimony, Otal said he posed as an authorized medical marijuana patient to get inside Big Daddy's, where he was allowed to buy six grams of pot for $55 to help relieve chronic back pain. Although he witnessed people inside the building smoking weed, he did not know if they were legitimate cardholders and did not know if the woman who distributed the marijuana was an authorized medical marijuana caregiver. He acknowledged the business checked his documents before offering him membership to the facility.

Smith also said he did not have first-hand knowledge of illegal activity inside the business, but emphasized the company's presence could be deemed illegal for violating zoning laws.

In other court happenings, O'Connor served subpoenas to three witnesses for the hearing, including Thompson, while they sat in the courtroom to watch the case unfold. Meanwhile, Rasor said he subpoenaed a lawyer from her firm to give testimony for unspecified reasons. The case is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

Dennis Pielack November 06, 2011 at 04:08 PM
Religious use of marijuana, it's a real form of communication and worship to and of the CREATOR of life, is the most ignored use of marijuana, and the most violated of rights concerning marijuana. I for one believe in the GOD of the Bible, and I further believe marijuana is a special creation given to man as a blessing for the health of humankind, and that those in power who would prevent GOD'S blessing is anti-Christ and should be removed from all positions of power by vote and other peacefull pressures. The attorney general obviously must be replaced along with his advocates and cronies. JESUS CHRIST IS LORD
Joseph November 07, 2011 at 11:56 AM
Pushed pills at St. Francis Home for Boys for years caused me to be addicted to dope and when released I was like a time bomb without my dope! Thank-God after 20 years of doing cocaines, acid, mesculine, opium and more I came to realize my body & mind only responded well to cannabis. Never even thinking about those drugs I can easily say without doubt that 99% plus of everybody on pain pills and those depressed should smoke this wonderful product. Quit drinking fools drinks and smoking fools tobacco. Treat yourself, your mind, body and soul to the best!
Sammy V. March 24, 2012 at 04:40 PM
An honor student caught with a joint shouldn't have their life flushed down the toilet because Richard Nixon demanded pot be scheduled the same as heroin. Telling kids that prescription painkillers are less dangerous than marijuana is incredibly stupid. In fact, you could easily argue the current drug schedule(s) is one of the most absurd government policies in American history. One day history students will look back on this failed prohibition in absolute bewilderment-- sort of how we look at the Salem Witch Trials.
Dave March 24, 2012 at 04:54 PM
You all seem to have your facts in order and i can see you've all done your homework when it comes to researching this topic. But you all do realize you are opening yourselves up for an arrest by the chesterfield police. They can and do read these comments just like everyone else. And i can tell you all from experience they have no problem making up charges to do a false arrest and malicious prosecution. Be carefull what you say on here.. it's not what you say it's just that you're trying to take away their bread and butter and they get pissed bout that. And now i guess i'll be on their hit list too, just for talking with you guys.. no biggie for me though.. i'm used to their illegal tactics.
Dave March 24, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Dosen't need to be a crime... who said they needed you to commit a crime to harass and intimidate you? If they can find a way to make a phoney 911 call in order to come search your house they can just as easily lie and say you committed a crime. Not that i disagree with you at all about being vocal about it.. heck i used to go to the LEO forumns with my experts from a marijuana forumn i used to moderate and we'd have some week long debates where we'd change quite a few of the officers minds on it being illegal. So, i do know it can be done.. just more a warning that these police aren't playing by any rules...they make up their own as they go along.

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