Darlene F. Krisel smokes medical marijuana in her home when chronic pain confines her to bed.
On the days she feels better and yearns to move around, the 53-year-old West Bloomfield woman and her son drive to Big Daddy's Compassionate Care Club in Oak Park, where she lights up with other state-certified patients inside a designated smoke room.
"It feels good to talk to other people about my pain. We all know each other here," said Krisel, who wears support braces on her elbows, knees and one wrist.
Medical marijuana entrepreneurs -- seeking to tap demand by patients like Krisel and their caregivers for "safe" spots to smoke and talk about one of the state's fastest growing industries -- want to set up shop in Ferndale, a progressive suburb with a "cannabis friendly" reputation.
In turn, Ferndale appears poised to embrace medical marijuana commerce -- as long as there are rules.
With six applications for medical marijuana businesses pending, Ferndale enacted a 90-day moratorium this month so officials can study how to best regulate such facilities, City Manager Robert Bruner Jr. said.
"This is a not an attempt to delay the inevitable, but a good-faith effort to give the staff some time to prepare some options consistent with other communities across Michigan. Think of it as moderate regulation like any other business," Bruner said.
Still, the standstill comes as other cities across the region -- Berkley, Bloomfield Township, Royal Oak and West Bloomfield -- have enacted similar moratoriums and cities including Livonia, Roseville, Garden City and Huntington Woods have approved restrictions or outright bans on medical marijuana business.
Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey said the city has had plenty of time to craft an ordinance for businesses since Michigan voters approved a statewide medical marijuana law in 2008. Ferndale voters approved an ordinance allowing individuals to use medical marijuana in 2005.
"We had two years to do it and we didn't show political will and courage. We dithered. And other cities have taken these strident reactionary positions," Covey said. "My feeling is people still think of college students smoking bongs. This is really about people who have illnesses using this as effective medicine."
One medical marijuana business -- which set up shop before the moratorium -- is already serving customers out of its Ferndale location. It's the only legal medical marijuana business in the city.
Ryan Richmond, co-owner of Clinical Relief, operates a medical marijuana consultation business where certified patients can pick from among 15 to 20 varieties of pot to take elsewhere for use. Richmond's company also sells edibles: products that contain cannabis, including sodas, suckers and baked goods.
"We want to make certain people follow the rules. We look at state ID cards, we verify with doctors. We've been operational for a month. We do good business -- about 500 customers so far," said Richmond, 33, whose background is in commercial real estate.
Susan Ferris, owner of Big Daddy's, hopes her application in Ferndale to set up a second shop will be approved. Her company specializes in workshops for medical marijuana users and caregivers, offers demonstrations of growing systems and publishes a specialty magazine about marijuana. Caregivers meet patients at the club to provide medical marijuana to be smoked or ingested on site.
"We are a compassionate care center where patients come in and talk to us. It's not just about smoking pot. It's educating people on what works," Ferris said.
Businessman Phillip Ben-Ezra wants to open a clinic at a property he owns on Woodward in Ferndale. Multiple requests to rent out his space for a medical marijuana shop persuaded Ben-Ezra to give it a try himself.
"I feel like that is where business is going ... and there is demand. You see the billboards everywhere for this," he said.
Jerome Raska, owner of Blumz ... by JR Designs on Nine Mile in Ferndale, said he hopes to rent out a small space on his property to a merchant who wants to open a medical consultation shop. Plans call for providing seminars and workshops on medical marijuana issues.
Raska, a business owner in Ferndale for more than 10 years, credits city leaders for taking the time to work out a thoughtful policy on the issue. The applicant he is working with did not return a call from The Detroit News.
"I think it's great. It's a new thing to everyone. As opposed to some cities, which ruled against it, Ferndale has taken a more logical stand," Raska said.
Joseph Brennan a 30-year-old entrepreneur from Ray Township, is asking the city to let him open a wellness facility to cater to state-certified patients.
"It would be a one-stop shop for patients to get medicine and acquire the knowledge to be safely medicated. We would also offer gardening and hydroponic designs," Brennan said.
For patients with extreme illness, he wants to offer house calls and other in-home services.
"This was designed to help people in need and a way to generate money in an economy that isn't doing the greatest," said Brennan, a U.S. military veteran and previous small business owner. Brennan said he sympathizes with cities grappling with medical marijuana policies, saying the industry has hit the state by storm.
He thinks Ferndale is the right place to build the trade. "We've tried other cities but we just fell in love with Ferndale and the area and how they are trendy. We are holding out for the city," he said.
Ferndale is expected to make a decision later this summer.
Jennifer Chambers / The Detroit News
June 25. 2010