(Photo by John Cook) These labels for medical-marijuana containers identify the strain and strength of the product. Tuscola County has a greater percentage of medical-marijuana cardholders and medical-marijuana caregivers than any of the six counties bordering Tuscola County. About one in 23 Tuscola County residents possesses a state medical-marijuana card allowing him to receive the drug, according to statistics from the state and U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Caregivers grow marijuana for sale to cardholders.

Tuscola County is region’s marijuana card capital

(Photo by John Cook)
These labels for medical-marijuana containers identify the strain and strength of the product. Tuscola County has a greater percentage of medical-marijuana cardholders and medical-marijuana caregivers than any of the six counties bordering Tuscola County. About one in 23 Tuscola County residents possesses a state medical-marijuana card allowing him to receive the drug, according to statistics from the state and U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Caregivers grow marijuana for sale to cardholders.

If it seems like a whole lot of folks around Tuscola County have a state medical-marijuana card or are growing the plants as a “caregiver,” state statistics may seem to bear that out.

About one of every 23 Tuscola County residents possesses a medical-marijuana card entitling him or her to buy medical marijuana. Cardholders can buy marijuana from sources including a caregiver, who is allowed to grow up to 72 plants for each of five patients and himself.

Tuscola County, in fact, has a higher percentage of medical-marijuana cardholders than any of the six counties that surround it – Huron, Sanilac, Lapeer, Genesee, Saginaw or Bay counties.

And Tuscola County, population 53,777 according to 2015 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, also has the largest percentage of caregivers per county in the region, with about one of every 113 Tuscola County residents registered as a caregiver.

The Advertiser calculated the number of medical-marijuana cards per capita using state statistics on number of medical-marijuana cards in each county as of Thursday, and using census population estimates per county.

As of Thursday, there were 2,369 medical-marijuana patients, or cardholders, in Tuscola County, constituting 4.4 percent of the county population. There were 478 caregivers.

A caregiver also must apply for and receive a state medical-marijuana card, but when the state counts the number of cardholders, it doesn’t include caregivers in that total but tallies caregivers separately.

Dr. Richard Horsch of Tuscola County’s Dayton Township, a member of the board of directors overseeing the Tuscola County Health Department, believes county residents turn to medical marijuana for their ailments due to “social stress” caused, in part, by a poor economy.

“Last time I checked, our (median) income per household here in Tuscola County – with husband and wife working – is only $44,000, and that’s hard to live on,” Horsch said. Horsch, 82, a retired anesthesiologist, stressed that his opinion is just that, and that he’s not speaking on behalf of the board of directors overseeing the county health department.

“It is social stress – it is the economy,” said Horsch. “But the problem with marijuana is that it can be a gateway drug to other drugs, or it can lead to (desire for) increased strength of marijuana.”

The Advertiser also calculated medical-marijuana statistics for counties bordering Tuscola County.

About one of every 24 Genesee County residents holds a medical-marijuana card, or is a “patient,” in terms used by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. The chance of encountering a marijuana cardholder is the lowest, in this region, in Huron County, where only one of about 55 residents possesses a card.

About one of every 38 Sanilac County residents possesses a card, with one of every 29 Lapeer County residents possessing one, one of every 39 Saginaw County residents possessing one, and one of every 37 Bay County residents possessing one.

Statewide, about one of every 38 residents is a cardholder, according to the state’s 2016 census population estimate and the number of cardholders in the state as of early December.

Statistics released this fall from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs note that 93 percent of cardholders are afflicted with severe and chronic pain, with 22 percent troubled by severe and persistent muscle spasms, 10 percent afflicted with severe nausea, 5 percent having cancer and 3 percent dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Three municipalities in Tuscola County – the city of Vassar, Vassar Township and Juniata Township – have approved ordinances allowing, licensing and regulating various types of medical-marijuana-related businesses in those townships under a 2016 state law.

The city of Vassar and Vassar Township have opted to allow medical-marijuana provisioning centers (stores), growers, processors, testers and transporters. Juniata Township is allowing growers, testers and transporters.

A medical-marijuana store, The Station Provisioning Center, opened in Vassar earlier this month – possibly the first such store in Michigan to open in accordance with the state’s 2016 Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act.

That law also allows the state and municipalities – such as cities, villages and townships – to collect licensing and regulatory fees from such facilities. There’s also a state sales tax, along with an excise tax, imposed on provisioning centers.

Thomas R. Reif of Bay City-based Michigan Marijuana Law Experts, who worked as a consultant for Vassar Township regarding its medical-marijuana ordinance, predicts that licensed medical-marijuana businesses will bring economic benefits to the Vassar area.

“Property values have skyrocketed in municipalities like Pinconning Township (in Bay County) and Au Gres Township (in Arenac County) as a direct result of allowing facilities,” Reif wrote in an email to The Advertiser.

“Jobs will most certainly be created. I’ve been told by growers that they expect to employ between 10 and 20 people for every Class C (1,500-plant) grow. My township (Au Gres Township in Arenac County) has already issued around 40 Class C permits. If you do the math, that’s 400 jobs at $15 an hour in a township with a population of around 950.

“That’s just Class C growers. It does not include the other types of facilities such as processor, provisioning center and secure transporters. Makes one wonder where the workers will come from and where they’ll live. I’m sure the effect will be similar in the Vassar area as well.”

Owners of several Vassar commercial buildings have told The Advertiser they’ve received interest from marijuana business entrepreneurs discussing purchases of those buildings.

Horsch, however, doesn’t see a rosy future for communities embracing medical-marijuana businesses.

“Wait until they see the crime it brings in and when they have to deal with that crime,” Horsch said. “There are cities in Colorado (which legalized marijuana for recreational purposes in 2012) that were very posh resort towns, with booming real-estate prices … and you can’t sell a building in those cities now.

“They’re overrun with crime, and derelicts, and bums on the street, and panhandlers and petty criminals. It only brings crime in.”

Horsch said he believes marijuana should be legalized in Michigan for recreational use just as tobacco or alcohol sales are legal, but said marijuana “should only be allowed to be sold in strains of less than 5 percent (of THC).”

“I am very concerned that these marijuana cardholders are going to smoke very potent forms of marijuana, and get into trouble,” Horsch said. “I am not concerned if they’re smoking the stuff with 1 to 3 to 4 percent of THC.

“But when they get into smoking marijuana containing 15 percent and 20 percent and 30 percent THC, I think they’re going to do themselves an awful lot of damage. Stay away from these strong concentrations.”

Such more potent strains of marijuana are “just destroying the brain and permanently damaging the cognitive function of the brain,” Horsch said.

Compared with Tuscola County’s 2,369 medical-marijuana cardholders as of Thursday, there were 577 medical-marijuana cardholders in Huron County and 1,086 in Sanilac County.

Genesee County counted 17,417 cardholders, with 5,015 in Saginaw County, 3,039 in Lapeer County and 2,880 in Bay County.

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