An Oakland County Court jury found 70-year-old Barb Agro guilty of delivery/manufacture of marijuana last week. Although she is a registered medical marijuana patient and caregiver, Agro faces as much as four years in prison.
This is the first case stemming from several Oakland County Sheriff's raids on alleged marijuana dispensaries in Ferndale and Waterford, as well as private homes, last Aug. 25. Agro was working in the office at Clinical Relief in Ferndale when it was raided. During the raid, Agro felt confident enough in her legal status to inform police that she and her husband Sal, also a registered patient, grew marijuana in their home. Later that day their home was raided.
Because the front door was unlocked when police raided the house, the Agros were in violation of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which specifies that patients and caregivers who grow marijuana must keep it in a locked and secured area. That led to Oakland Circuit Judge Wendy Potts ruling in favor of a prosecutor's motion that Agro could not use medical marijuana as a defense. Sal Agro died from a heart attack a week after the raids. Barb Agro will be sentenced on July 13.
"Once she gets sentenced, we go to the court of appeals," says Agro's attorney Jerome Sabbota, who adds that the appeal will be based on the jury being kept in the dark about her status as a certified medical marijuana user. Given the injunction against using the medical marijuana defense or any reference to it, Sabbota says, "There was no defense to the charge legally."
Because Agro's defense could not mention medical marijuana, activists attempted to make the jury aware of Agro's patient status by passing out information to jurors as they came and went from the courtroom.
"I believe it backfired," Sabbota says.
When Judge Potts became aware of the actions by activists, she spoke to each juror individually to be clear that they would follow the law as it was presented in the case. Sabbota says that three jurors asked Potts if Agro was a medical marijuana cardholder, but the judge refused to answer. Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper was quoted referring to the activists' activities as jury tampering in a June 9 Oakland Press article, and ominously noted that some of the activists have been identified on video.
Individuals charged in the Ferndale and Waterford raids are scheduled for pretrial on June 27 — including Agro. These are cases where sheriff's deputies used fake certification cards to gain entry and purchase marijuana, and brought marijuana in to sell to the dispensary. Police also allege that marijuana was illegally sold outside the facilities. Cooper's tactic to get the judge to nullify the medical marijuana defense in the Agro case bodes badly for the medical marijuana community. If a prosecutor can get a judge to nullify the law on a technicality, then there is essentially no MMMA defense.
Here's another instance of how police are approaching seemingly legal medical marijuana-related businesses. On May 3, officers from Clinton Township's Special Investigative Unit raided American Medical Marijuana Professionals' certification center at 28349 Gratiot Ave. in Roseville. According to owner Tom French, about 20 patients, employees and Dr. Dean Fior were at the facility. Police spent about five hours searching them and their vehicles, and interrogated them. They confiscated Fior's car, office computers, records and files. At the same time, they raided French's home in Warren and Fior's home in Troy. French says police confiscated his and his wife's vehicles, their home computers, cell phones, credit cards and cash, and seized their bank accounts. At Fior's home, French says they confiscated $110,000 from Fior's safe but gave him a receipt for only $92,000. So far no charges of any kind have been filed. French says there was no marijuana at any location.
"We are a certification center, not a dispensary. We are licensed by the city of Roseville. This was pretty much a witch hunt by Lt. David Demick of Clinton Township. They took all my assets and my company's assets," says French, who also owns a residential cement company. "We're up and running again. There is no court order to shut down. They pretty much just came in and robbed us."
Demick told me Clinton Township's SIU has statewide jurisdiction for drug cases. He chose not to respond to other questions. For the record, this is not a case like that of Dr. Lois Butler Jackson, who last month had her medical license suspended by the state due to allegations that she was pre-signing medical marijuana certificates and selling them.
Although AMMP is still in business, it's not like before. French says he's open fewer hours, and he's cut back from five full-time employees to three part-timers. He plans to file a civil suit against Clinton Township.
"These were forfeiture raids and no charges have been filed or are expected to be filed because there was no wrongdoing at AMMP," says French. "Everything is legitimate. The doctor sees each and every patient; there is a 10-page application; and he approved or denied people. We were legitimate across the board. ... We had to post a $1,000 bond so they don't sell our stuff. We're protesting the forfeiture. They have to give us a reason why. We're a legitimate business."
Big Daddy's Hydro and Compassion Club in Oak Park seem to be legitimate business too, but they were raided by Oakland County Sheriff's deputies in January. They seized a small amount of cash and marijuana but made no arrests and there have been no charges related to the raid. Since then Big Daddy's has been operating as usual.
"There have been no charges and no inquiries since then," says Rick Thompson, a Big Daddy's employee. "We were open the next day. There was only about $2,200 and a small amount of cannabis taken. As far as we're concerned it's not worth fighting Oakland County about. There was never an official explanation."
On the legal front it's been a tough stretch for medical marijuana supporters. When police can raid and seize assets without explanation or charges, then we are in bigger trouble than some problems with pot. The rule of law itself is under attack.
There are a couple of reports out there that marijuana partisans can point to. One is a recent report from the United Nations Global Commission on Drug Policy that opens with: "The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world." It calls for the decriminalization of all drugs and a health care approach to addiction. One chart showing the risk assessment for drugs shows marijuana to be less harmful than tobacco, and puts alcohol up there with heroin, cocaine and barbiturates.
A brief financial report from the Michigan Department of Community Health shows that from Oct. 1, 2010, to March 31, the state collected about $4.2 million more in certification fees than it spent in administering the medical marijuana program — bringing the total to $8 million since the MMMA went into effect Dec. 4, 2008. Those dollars go into the state's general fund. When you consider how cash-strapped Michigan is, I would guess there isn't going to be enough political will in Lansing to cut off that cash flow.