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A friendlier face for pot in Detroit

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Get ready for the new "QLine." And I'm not talking about a train along Woodward.

I'm referring to the current endeavors of Anqunette Jamison Sarfoh, the former Fox 2 newswoman known as Q.

Sarfoh has used cannabis to treat the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis for some years, and since retiring from TV news she has become a spokesperson for some pro cannabis groups. She supports the MI Legalize effort and plans to speak at the 2018 Ann Arbor Hash Bash, but says she turned down the opportunity to speak for Proposals A and B because she only agreed with some of their provisions. (They passed.)

Last week, in the midst of denying permits to six other facilities, the Board of Zoning Appeals granted the request of one applicant located in the Corktown area. It may have helped that Q is one of the owners and spoke on its behalf along with a number of patients, as well as former Deputy Mayor and Chief of Police Isaiah McKinnon. Even the Corktown Business Association is on board. Q spent time obtaining signatures in the community and drumming up support from local groups. She was prepared.

It also helped that the location is compliant with all of the strict city zoning codes set up in 2016. In fact, marijuana fighter Winifred Blackmon and a couple of his associates who showed up at the hearing to speak against any zoning appeals didn't have much fodder on this one. Other places were denied permits because they were closer than the required 1,000 feet from liquor stores, and one place was denied because it is 990 feet (as the crow flies) from a park. Regarding Q's location, Blackmon wrote in an email to supporters, "This proposed location was not in violation of any 1,000-foot spacing but is near the new site of the PAL's facility at Michigan and Trumbull. My opposition was that young children would see this facility if their parents drove home north on Rosa Parks."

Neither Blackmon nor the few others from his group who showed up at the hearing live in the neighborhood.

"I thought it was advantageous to be seen from the highway," says Sarfoh. "It's a good way to keep excess traffic out of the neighborhood."

So now Q and her business partners are in business in Detroit. The Qs (if I may be so bold as to call them that) intend to apply for licenses to grow, process, and sell marijuana when the state guidelines are released this month.

"We want to grow our own flowers, and make our own edibles and concentrates," says Sarfoh.

The Qs have already lined up a growing location in Warren and intend to have a dispensary named BotaniQ at the Rosa Parks location. Sarfoh envisions a place like none other in Detroit.

"We want to help people incorporate cannabis into a more healthy lifestyle," Sarfoh explains.

To that end Sarfoh has lined up participation with doctors, cooks, and other health experts.

"Cannabis is food," says Sarfoh. "When you're dealing with chronic illness, cannabis should be just one component of that. You need a more balanced, plant-based diet."

In other words, let's face it — all the sugar in those brownies aren't doing you any good.

To that end another stop on the Q cannabis line is the array of edibles she is developing — from gummies to granola bars. They will be marketed under the BaQed nametag.

"They're going to be delicious and rich," she says. "But they're going to be more natural, minimally processed items. I'm narrowing down my products and finalizing my packaging."

Sarfoh hopes BotaniQ will be able to open its doors in April and expects to have BaQed products there too.

Could Q become the friendly face of cannabis in Detroit? Will we see her face on billboards encouraging us to get BaQed?

"I don't know if I will put my image on advertising," she says. "My husband has floated the idea."

But all kidding aside, as a medical marijuana patient Sarfoh seems sincere in trying to help other patients develop healthier lifestyles.

"Since my retirement when I told people what I was doing to treat my illness, people with all sorts of illnesses have reached out to me," she says. "They've told me, 'My doctor says I should try this but I don't want to get high.' We've talked about their options. I've helped people get high for the first time."

This is the softer, friendlier face of cannabis. We've seen plenty of the ugly. Maybe it's time to get a little balance here.

Since Proposals A and B passed nobody really knows what is going on with dispensaries in Detroit. And nobody from the city has come out to clarify the situation.

All that huffing and puffing and screaming "I'll sue you" that came from the Planning Commission and City Council is just that — a lot of chest thumping.

Winifred Blackmon sent a revealing little note out to supporters a day after the BZA hearings.

"I had an [in-depth] conversation with Councilperson Tate today while I was at BZA," Blackmon wrote. "Duggan is not going to let the law department file suit based on the Michigan Enable Zoning Act. There will have to be a citizen's lawsuit to have it in court."" 

If this little nugget is true, then there will be no city lawsuit against the proposals. So the city needs to get busy reconciling a lot of things, although folks there should wait until state rules come out before writing anything in stone.

But nobody knows what is what. For instance, according to Proposal B the dispensary that is 990 feet from a park is in compliance with the law. But which law is being applied? Does a place that was denied licensing based on a distance that is no longer illegal get to appeal again?

Also, Proposal A opts the city in with the state medical marijuana system. The state system — with growers, testing facilities, and dispensaries — is a next-step system of distribution from the original Michigan Medical Marihuana Act of 2008. It says that licensed entities can sell marijuana to patients who are not the patient's specific caregiver. The Detroit ordinance is very strictly tied to the caregiver system wherein the only marijuana transfers allowed are between patients and caregivers.

There is a big difference. The state is going one way, and Detroit isn't.

Now that it seems the immediate trauma of having the rug pulled from under you is over, the city needs to get busy reconciling things. There are plenty of empty buildings in Detroit, but Warren is the place that has stepped up when it comes to setting up permits for growing facilities. The state will allow them but the city needs to accommodate how they are run.

And regarding this citizen's lawsuit thing — nice work, if you can get it.

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