Two years ago, Robin J. Schneider was a housewife who taught Sunday school.
Now, the newly divorced mother has transformed her passion for organic gardening into a new career path - a medicinal marijuana caregiver.
The Haslett woman is among several mid-Michigan people who expect to grow medicinal marijuana in leased space in one of a few converted buildings that may open in coming weeks in the region.
This new niche, designed to meet the rising demand for medicinal marijuana in Michigan, is emerging against the backdrop of a struggling state economy and high unemployment. Michigan has the nation's highest unemployment rate at 14.6 percent.
Similar warehouse facilities, or growing cooperatives, have sprouted in recent months in other parts of the state, mostly in the Detroit area, marijuana advocates say.
This growing economy, which has drawn scrutiny from public officials, expands on the recent growth in marijuana-related stores, including a marijuana hydroponic shop in Lansing.
"It will be good for Michigan," Schneider said. "It's good for the economy. It will create jobs. It will create a money flow."
Julie Schneider of Lansing, no relation to Robin Schneider, said she is part of a group of investors that is in the process of leasing a commercial building in a light industrial zoned area of Ingham County.
Julie Schneider declined to specify where the 3,000-square-foot building is located.
However, she said the group planned to divide the building into about 10 locked pens, or rooms, that would be leased out to caregivers or patients. Each pen would be about 300 square feet.
After opening the facility in coming weeks, Julie Schneider said the group would explore a second location at an undisclosed area in Clinton County.
"There seems to a need for it, so we're looking into it heavily," Schneider said. "People are scared. People are afraid of break-ins" while growing it in their homes.
But Sen. Gerald Van Woerkom, R-Norton Shores, recently sponsored a Senate bill that would closely regulate the distribution of marijuana - channeling it largely through pharmacies - and one Lansing-area official is concerned about the creation of growing cooperatives in warehouses.
Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said he is reviewing the state's regulations related to the growing of marijuana to determine what kind of growing operations may be legal.
"I have gotten some calls from people who want to know if their operations are legal but they haven't told me the details," Dunnings said. "I'm doing a thorough review of the law. I don't think (the community) wants a marijuana factory next to a school."
Although some Michigan cities have passed ordinances to more closely regulate the distribution of marijuana, Lansing city administrators say they are not reviewing such proposals.
State law says state-authorized caregivers can grow up to 12 marijuana plants for every state-authorized medicinal marijuana patient, up to five people. Users and caregivers must keep all marijuana under lock and key.
But whether that legally paves the way for growing cooperatives in converted warehouses or buildings, in which caregivers can lease space to grow up to 60 plants, is unclear.
Neither the Michigan Attorney General's Office nor the state Department of Community Health, which administrates the program, could offer guidance to the State Journal on the legality of such operations. Both referred questions to the other agency.
However, Lisa Babcock, an East Lansing attorney who has advised clients on medical marijuana issues, said a converted warehouse operation, if properly secured, likely is legal.
"From my review of the law, it does not seem to be prohibited," Babcock said.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear just how profitable it is to grow marijuana as a caregiver. Robin Schneider said she expected to make as much as $40,000 annually from the enterprise.
But Greg Francisco, founder of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, said the reality is most people won't make more than $15,000 or $20,000 a year.
Once they begin to grow marijuana, he said, "they will see they are not going to make a living from it."
Using medical marijuana
• What medical conditions are eligible for using medicinal marijuana?
• They include cancer, HIV, Crohn's disease or other conditions involving chronic pain, nausea or muscle spasms. Individuals must apply to the Michigan Department of Community Health, Bureau of Health Professions, P.O. Box 30670, Lansing, MI 48909.
• How much marijuana can you have?
• Under the law, patients can possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana and 12 marijuana plants for personal use; caregivers, authorized by the state to provide the marijuana, can possess a similar amount for each patient, up to five persons. Users and caregivers must keep all marijuana under lock and key.
Source: Michigan Department of Community Health
February 7, 2010
Lansing State Journal
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Some see pot as legal cash crop, plan to convert sites for co-ops