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The front lines of the medical marijuana fight

Posted at 5:58 PM, Aug 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-29 10:43:16-04

SIDNEY TWP, Mich. - “The governor is gonna get this bill - I’m pretty sure.”

Those are the words of David Overholt.

He’s in charge of Mid-Michigan Compassion Club, a network of medical marijuana caregivers.

He’s also become somewhat of a lobbyist as state lawmakers consider changes to Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act.

While the measures fall far short of legalization, the bills would remove some red tape caregivers say is hurting their business and their patients.

In addition to his work as a caregiver, Overholt is a military veteran and a soybean and corn farmer for 20 years on his land in rural Montcalm County.

He also grows medical marijuana, which he was turned on to after becoming addicted to pain pills.

Overholt suffers from chronic back pain, so he is both a caregiver and a patient.

It’s not just those suffering chronic pain, minors - even children - are seeing the benefits.

“We have a handful, about 10 minor patients; four of them are under 5 years old,” said Paul Farage, operations director with the Society of Healing Arts Institute. “These are kids who have suffered from either epilepsy or a condition in which the drugs they are taking are so harmful they are causing more harm to the child than the condition itself.”

On Thursday, Overholt invited FOX 17 to see his indoor and outdoor grow operations in Sidney Township where he can grow up to 72 plants: 12 for each of his five patients and 12 for himself.

Overholt has been the primary face of the dispensary movement in Michigan.

In March of 2013, Overholt’s Mid-Michigan Compassion Club in Grand Rapids was raided by police and later shutdown.

He is still fighting the issue in court.

“I’ve had to take and appeal that to the Supreme Court and ask the Supreme Court to kick it back to the Appeals Court and make them hear it,” said Overholt. “What I would prefer is just send it back to Grand Rapids.”

“At any time you’re licensed for 72 plants, you can have them on possession at any time, as long as you’re with cards and legal patients by the state of Michigan,” Overholt said. “Any numbers above, you break the law.”

As law stands today, Overholt can only provide pot pills and smokeable marijuana to his patients. That’s among the reasons why he says it’s so important to legalize edibles.

“For one thing, it will put prospective oils and baked good into play,” said Overholt. “You will now be allowed to have and possess brownies and candy and the basic oil itself.”

“It will give municipalities and townships and cities the privilege of allowing, or not allowing, a dispensary,” Overholt said.

Overholt’s personal grow operation is a massive and expensive undertaking.

Just to get a grow room up and running costs about $15,000 for the lighting, watering and ventilation systems.

“Basically, the people I’m dealing with are all sick people,” Overholt explained. “So, if the insurance companies aren’t allowing payment in a normal manner, like in pharmacies, this burden falls on the patient. I have to get as efficient as I can to bring down my costs in order to make this work for everybody.”

It’s not uncommon for Overholt to get an electric bill for $2,000, or more. He also spends about $900 for three months-worth of fertilizers and organic growing aids, and another $2,000 for new soil each year. You can also add another $3,000 per month in labor costs.

Here’s what state lawmakers are now considering:

One bill would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to set up shop in municipalities that allow them, but it does put restrictions in place:

  1. Dispensaries could not be within 1,000 feet of a school
  2. They can’t sell marijuana that hasn’t been tested for mold and other impurities
  3. Dispensaries wouldn’t be allowed to hire anyone 21-years of age or younger
  4. They also could not hire someone who has a felony conviction for illegal drugs within the past 10 years.
  5. The dispensaries cannot share a space with a physician or allow doctors to advertise in the shop.

A second measure would allow medical pot patients to use edibles, meaning they would not have to smoke marijuana to feel its effects.

It also requires pot products be specifically labeled.

These measures have already passed the state House and are now heading to the Senate floor where they could be amended.

Back in Montcalm County, that has caregivers and pot activists like Overholt and others lobbying lawmakers about pot’s potential benefits.

“We had one woman crying, saying she wishes her daughter would die, just so she doesn’t have to suffer anymore,” said Farage. “In every single case of these kids, they have gone through the system, seen their doctors and come with a book of medical records – literally - and this is their last option.”

Overholt is getting ready to welcome lawmakers and their aides from across Michigan on Sept. 6 to his farm to get a firsthand look at his operation and to explain to them the benefits of legal dispensaries and edible medical marijuana.

The community of Sheridan is already seeing some benefits to the medical marijuana industry. Overholt brought together members of the community, raising more than $20,000 to purchase a truck for the local fire department.