BY ANDREW DIETDERICH

810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER — .

The Lapeer County Board of Commissioners on Thursday approved accepting $33,476 in grant money from the Michigan Dept. of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.

The amount each county receives is based on the number of medical marijuana cards in each respective jurisdiction.

At the end of 2016, Lapeer County had 2,488 medical marijuana cardholders. Currently, there are 3,017, according to state records. (As recent as 2014, there were only 1,171 medical marijuana cardholders in Lapeer County.)

Sheriff Scott McKenna said the money will help fund pur- chase of a new truck to haul trailers containing marijuana from illegal grow operations, continued training of the department’s K-9 unit, and overtime pay mostly for undercover operations during events like Lapeer Days.

Last year, grant monies helped fund the department’s purchase of a German shepherd named Axel that is part of its K-9 unit.

“The grant money given to Lapeer County is to help try enforce the current laws and standards established (with regard to marijuana),” McKenna told The County Press. “We try to find equipment or uses that is the most effective way to provide that service.”

Lapeer-based attorney Bernard Jocuns is a lifetime member of the legal committee of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). He has publicly expressed interest in forming a Lapeer County based marijuana advisory board.

Jocuns said, “Law enforcement grants are a wonderful benefit (of Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act) and the new sheriff really gets this tidbit.”

“Using grant monies from the (Michigan Medical Marijuana Act) is a positive,” Jocuns said. “If these funds can benefit law enforcements to get better equipment or training then we should all be grateful as this makes our community safer.”

Medical marijuana laws in Michigan allow for various “qualifying conditions” ranging from nausea and chronic pain to seizures and cancer. Cardholders can have up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana. (Also, they can have up to 12 marijuana plants as long as certain conditions are met, such as being in an enclosed, locked facility or not “visible to the unaided eye from an adjacent property when viewed by an individual at ground level or from a permanent structure.”)

Jocuns said the increase in medical marijuana cards reflects evolving attitudes and laws.

“People have been in fear in the county for a long time regarding marijuana in general and more people are shelving the ‘Reefer Madness and ‘War on Drugs Mindset’ myths,” Jocuns told The County Press.

“Lapeer (and the entire Thumb) has a significant history of anti-prohibition pertaining to marijuana in general. More people are having the courage to actually follow-through with a physician to legally obtain a Medical Marijuana Card because of the influx of ‘adult use’ cannabis states,” Jocuns said. ”There are not more people with qualifying conditions in Lapeer, just more people are informed and stepping up. With adult use on the horizon in Michigan more ‘regular citizens’ will process the correct information regarding cannabis, in turn participating or accepting those individuals that use cannabis instead of the traditional Scarlet Letter.”

News of the increase in medical marijuana cards and the grant money received by the county sheriff came on the eve of new state laws related to the drug going into effect.

Last year, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA), Public Act 281 of 2016. (The state spells marijuana with an “h” because statutes dating to the 1930s do. Changing the spelling would require action on the part of state lawmakers.)

The bill essentially expands and clarifies state law related to medical marijuana after voters in Michigan approved the Medical Marijuana Act in 2008.

The 2008 act didn’t necessarily legalize marijuana for medical use, but provided patients (those who can legally possess marijuana) and caregivers (those who grow marijuana for others as allowed per the act) immunity from prosecution as long as they met the law’s requirements related to variables such as how much a caregiver can grow, and how much patients can legally possess at any given time.

As of Dec. 15, and per new state law, there are five types of permissible medical marijuana entities (classes of licenses) that are regulated and allowed to operate in the state: growing, processing, provisioning centers, secured transporters, and safety compliance.

Local municipalities must have ordinances in place for such operations to establish themselves, otherwise they cannot set up shop. The City of Lapeer and Village of Almont have opted to craft local medical marijuana ordinances.

Jocuns says he believes it’s just the beginning.

“People have no idea how much revenue the (Medical Marijuana Facility Licensing Act) will bring into our community as Lapeer is really the hub of the state as we border six counties,” Jocuns said. “This will be great for local government and business owners, as well. All local business will see an increase in business (profits, sales, etc.).”

Jocuns also added that “Marijuana is not a Republican or Democratic issue, it is one for all citizens and can benefit the community as a whole.”