Alyssa Schuck smiled as she pulled at the light brown hair sticking out of her daughter's hat.
For Nattaly Brown, this was a milestone. Her hair, now poking out of her glittery cap, had grown. And growing hair means so much more these days.
Nattaly was diagnosed three years ago with rhabdomyosarcoma, cancer that affects tissue and lymph nodes. The 7-year-old Battle Creek, Michigan, girl has battled rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and all the body-wrecking baggage that came with it, from vomiting to anxiety to a feeding tube.
She also uses medical marijuana.
"People hear cannabis or marijuana and they're like, 'Wait. What?'" Schuck said. "They have this preconceived notion that it's the worst thing in the whole world."
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Battle Creek may soon be home to dispensaries and other medical marijuana operations if Battle Creek city commissioners decide to allow such businesses within city limits. With state laws signed last year creating a licensing process by the end of this year, municipalities across Michigan now are taking up discussions on what to do, if anything, about medical marijuana.
Battle Creek began their own talks Tuesday during a City Commission workshop.
There are more than 3,100 medical marijuana patients in Calhoun County, according to the state's most recent annual report.
While the new laws would not impact patients directly receiving cannabis from their registered caregivers, supporters of dispensaries say city commissioners could help patients who are looking for secure, trusted places to find marijuana.
Though she's Nattaly's registered caregiver, Schuck does not grow marijuana for her sole patient. They instead travel to a dispensary, usually in Ann Arbor, where they choose wisely; Schuck is selective about which ones she'll introduce to Nattaly and has learned over time that some are sketchier than others.
Getting Nattaly's card was not without challenges. Her regular doctor could not sign off because of Bronson Battle Creek's medical marijuana policy, prompting them to visit multiple offices and hope they weren't falling into a scam.
Bronson's spokesperson, Carolyn Wyllie, said its clinicians are encouraged to "decline to act as providers or gatekeepers of patients’ access to cannabis-related products until they have received marketing approval from the Food and Drug Administration."
The family has tried different forms of marijuana: topicals, edibles, tinctures, vaporizers. Through trial and error, speaking with others in the cancer community and doing their own research, they have been able to find the right dosages and Nattaly's preferred strains, Schuck said.
After starting medical marijuana, Nattaly gained weight. She stopped waking up in the middle of the night. She got off her anxiety medication, stopping her drowsiness and crying.
Nattaly's last scan showed no cancer, despite her stopping chemotherapy early and only using medical marijuana. If next month's scans are clear, she'll officially hit the six-month, cancer-free mark known as remission.
"It's scary and it's a risk," Schuck said. "And you don't want to talk about it — but you do want to talk about it, you know what I mean? You want people to know it's not terrible."
It's unclear if and when Battle Creek officials will take action on medical marijuana. On Tuesday, city staff cautioned commissioners, warning them of the unknowns, including the consequences of marijuana remaining illegal at the federal level and the costs of regulating it locally.
Still, while some municipalities have embraced dispensaries, none operate openly in Calhoun County — and if they do, not for very long.
Several local dispensaries shut down after law enforcement raids in 2013. Some cases were dismissed and some remain unresolved in the court system.
Battle Creek Police Chief Jim Blocker said much of the law remains unclear. The licensing process is not yet established and the state board that would set many of the rules has not been appointed, he said.
"There's no determination for the formula in place for how we are going to finance this program," Blocker said during the commission workshop. "I realize there's a lot of percentages thrown out there, there's a lot of fees thrown out there, but all of those have to be justified in practice."
Schuck makes no apologies for giving marijuana to her daughter. It's helped her shake her own thoughts of the stoner-kid stereotype and it's normalized medical marijuana among her once-skeptical family members.
But she sees the biggest benefit when she looks at Nattaly, who's got a full head of hair and a smile on her face.
And if it means she later has a weed-smoking teenager daughter, she's OK with it.
"She's happy. And she's not dead," Schuck said. "You have to come to the realization that life is scary and decisions are scary and change is scary.
"But what's scarier than losing your kid? Literally, nothing."
Contact government reporter Jennifer Bowman at 269-966-0589 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @jenn_bowman. Listen to the podcast she co-hosts, The Jump Page, at soundcloud.com/thejumppage.