Walking into the Kushion, located in downtown Lansing on Michigan Avenue, the first thing you notice is a loud beep. That’s the metal detector.
The second is the decor. Expensive paneled wooden floors line the sparsely decorated lobby, housing comfortable brown suede chairs which lead you to the front desk. But beyond the lobby, through your stereotypical beaded doorway, lies the real interesting stuff.
In the back room are two display cases containing several hefty buds of the good stuff: weed, smoke, dope, hash, kush, pot, chronic, mary jane, 420 and marijuana- one in the same. But this isn’t your typical illegal drug deal. In fact, this business is entirely legal. It’s medicine.
“Our facility here we like to think of is completely legitimate, we don’t like to leave loopholes in the law, we run by the letter of the law, period,” said Dennis Betts, medical marijuana patient and Vice President of the Kushion. “We run by the letter of the law right down to the bottom.”
Every time I walk into the Kushion I am greeted by Chris, Greg, Dennis, Derrick and Nathan. Each has their own story as to how they came to the Kushion and how they became involved with medical marijuana.
I sat down to speak with Dennis on a Sunday afternoon at the Kushion. Sitting in the dingy back room that no one ever sees, we were separated by a large table covered with marijuana, dollar bills and mysterious brown paper bags. In the corner of the room, directly next to the door, is an elaborate surveillance system allowing you to peer into every imaginable location- now I know, they can see everything.
After working in law enforcement for 24 years, a former DEA agent, Dennis’ venture into medical marijuana was a difficult choice.
“I was shot three times in the line of duty. My doctors did pretty much everything they could pharmaceutically, synthetic narcotics, to get me where I was pain relieved,” Dennis said. “I got so tired of taking pills and then some of the pills I had horrible, horrible reactions.”
Trying everything from vicodin to oxycontin and methadone, it took a strong suggestion from his doctor to get Dennis to even consider trying the “dragon drug” marijuana.
“Working and dealing with law enforcement, working in narcotics, kicking in doors, batter ramming doors and dealing with that, it was very difficult for me to rectify [using medical marijuana],” Dennis said.
But eventually, he came around to the idea.
“They leave me no choice as far as, either you stay in pain, or you take your self-righteousness and say, you know, you were a cop all those years, but cops get hurt too and they’re human also, so I don’t have any regrets that I’m in this center being able to help other people,â€ Dennis said.
As far as business practices are concerned at the Kushion, everything appears to be completely legitimate. All prospective patients must be registered with the State in order to obtain their medication from the Kushion. They must also go through an additional verification process with their on-staff physician.
“We want to make sure that we’re available to [patients] and that we have a product that’s going to give them the best opportunity so it doesn’t hurt them. So that’s important,” Dennis said. “It’s important that you’re putting a product out there that’s not going to hurt people and it’s important that when you do provide that product and that service, that it is going to benefit people, it’s going to give them relief.”
Throughout my time spent at the Kushion I also had a chance to speak with Derrick, a medical marijuana patient and caregiver.
Derrick began using marijuana 12 years ago to help with his ulcerative colitis. After graduating college with his bachelors degree, Derrick chose to become a caregiver due to limited employment opportunities.
“I’ve told my whole family, at first they were a little skeptical of it, but once I showed them the laws and told them the money that was into it, obviously they’re informed of the recession right now, there’s not a lot of jobs out there,” Derrick said. “Spend 30, 40 thousand dollars on your bachelors degree and went to a couple career fairs and they’re not hiring really.”
Beyond employment opportunities, Derrick sees a strong potential for medical marijuana to add a significant benefit to Michigan’s economy.
“Think how much money the government makes off tobacco and alcohol. Where do those tobacco and alcohol sales go to? They go to help the schools,” Derrick said. “I think the same thing can be done with [medical marijuana], but legislation needs to clarify things.”
As with any business dealing in the potentially shady industry of marijuana, the Kushion, along with several other medical marijuana facilities along Michigan Avenue, has faced skepticism from the local community.
“The city would say, basically, we have neon signs flashing and advertising. Well, so does the bar next door, so do all the other bars and restaurants,” Dennis said. “But what law is there to prevent anyone from [advertising]? This is where you can come and get medicinal marijuana.”
In addition to their moderately confusing relationship with the City Rescue Mission of Lansing located next door, the Kushion also faces the constant threat of robbery. Hence the elaborate surveillance system, metal detector and continual hints about employees who are packing heat.
Although the executive director of the mission, Mark Criss, explained the situation a bit differently, Dennis believes the mission’s homeless clientele is more of a threat to business at the Kushion than the other way around.
“We went to the mission next door and I talked to the executive director there and I said, you know, we appreciate if you keep the people who are staying here from standing out, or hanging out in front of our business, because we don’t want that,” Dennis said. “They couldn’t get in anyway, because we have a metal detector at the door.”
Despite the rigorous security measures at the Kushion, Criss has expressed concerns about guests at the mission who are undergoing rehabilitation.
“Our challenge is that we have a drug rehabilitation program,” Criss said. “So our challenge is the fact that many of [our guests] have come from that kind of background where marijuana is utilized.”
Despite his concerns about the irony of being located next door to a medical marijuana dispensary, Criss admitted that they have not run into any problems with their neighbors.
“We have not been negatively impacted by our neighbors. They’ve been pretty cordial, so we haven’t had any problems, I hope they don’t have any problems with us either,” Criss said. “So we’re certainly trying to get along with each other. But it’s just the irony that we see men come from a similar background.”
As medical marijuana continues to grow, it seems inevitable that Lansing residents will continue to see more businesses like the Kushion popping up along Michigan Avenue. In fact, there are several similar businesses lining the corridor already. However, there won’t be any new dispensaries opening on Michigan Avenue any time soon. On Monday December 6, the Lansing City Council passed a moratorium prohibiting any new medical marijuana dispensaries from opening in Lansing for the next six months. While this decision will put a delay on any new business openings, it will leave preexisting dispensaries relatively untouched.