The very first time I started reporting for the Higher Ground column in 2009, marijuana activists were outspoken about their opposition to Bill Schuette, then a candidate for state attorney general. Schuette won — and has carried on a vendetta against patients, caregivers and dispensaries operating under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.
I’ve heard lots of horror stories from folks paranoid about the potential harm a candidate could do, once in office. I’d be hard-pressed to name a candidate who turned out to be as bad as the opposition imagined in the way that Schuette has. He, along with the likes of Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, has pressed for the most conservative, restrictive interpretations of the law possible.
Sometimes the courts have blocked that agenda, but mostly they have gone along with Schuette, a former state Supreme Court justice who led the opposition to the MMMA before voters voted in its favor.
However, rather than bow to the will of the people, Schuette has fought voters tooth and nail.
Then there are states like Ohio, where the legislature decriminalized possession of as much as 100 grams (about 3-1/2 ounces) of marijuana, making it a minor misdemeanor, punishable by a fine, in 2012. This lessened penalties even more than a 1975 decriminalization law. In Ohio, there is no backlash against the relaxed marijuana law like there is in Michigan. At least, that is the observation of Charmie Gholson, who formerly worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and now consults with folks from other states regarding strategies for drug policy reform.
“In Ohio, there is no Bill Schuette, no Sheriff Bouchard,” says Gholson, who lives in the Ann Arbor area. “It’s very strange for me and compelling to see what we’ve accomplished here, in Michigan, under this duress — against people with unlimited resources and access to the media … Here, we’re fighting for our lives every minute of every day. In Ohio, they have a supportive legislature.”
I guess it means that when the legislature speaks, law enforcement listens. As opposed to, say, in Michigan, where, when the people speak, politicians try to get around their will with legal technicalities about being in compliance with the MMMA.
The Michigan Municipal League was also a leader in fighting against the MMMA. In meetings shortly after the law was passed, members were introduced to a strategy of stalling, legal technicalities, local zoning laws, claiming superiority over national laws, working test cases up through the courts and more. Grand Rapids city attorney Catherine Mish played a big part in that too.
“I watched that unfold,” says Gholson. “They have destroyed lives along the way.”
Lives such as those of Sal and Barb Agro. In 2010, the Agros were patients and caregivers under the MMMA. Barb worked at the front desk at the Clinical Relief dispensary, owned by her sons, in Ferndale. Ferndale had granted the permit for Clinical Relief to operate and police had inspected the facility, giving it the OK. Then Oakland County sheriffs, using marijuana registry cards they counterfeited, made buys at the facility. They came back and busted the place. Later the same day, they raided the Agro home where family members believed they were growing medical marijuana legally.
They were busted and charged with possession and manufacturing an illegal substance. Sal, 67, died from a heart attack about a week after his arrest; Barb, now 70, was not allowed to use the MMMA affirmative defense at her trial because the front door was not locked at the time of the raid on her home. Under the MMMA, all marijuana gardens must be locked and secure. Law enforcement claimed that since the door was not locked, the Agros were not in compliance with the MMMA and therefore couldn’t mention it at the trial — even though some jurors asked if this was a medical marijuana case.
Barb was found guilty at trial; then not guilty on appeal when she was allowed to use the affirmative defense. She and her sons are still tied up in the continuing case against Clinical Relief.
Just as despicable is the recent case of Maria and Steve Green, certified marijuana patients and caregivers. Steve uses marijuana to ease his epileptic seizures and Maria has multiple sclerosis. In September, their 6-month-old daughter, Bree, was removed from their home by the state Child Protective Services. Maria says that a referee from CPS first claimed Bree was in danger because the presence of marijuana made their home a target of possible robbers. There were claims that Bree’s hair tested positive for trace amounts of THC. There were pending charges for growing in Oakland County that never went anywhere because Maria is a caretaker. After an out-of-court agreement that includes the Greens attending parenting classes, Bree was returned to her parents. All it took was six weeks of torturing the family for no apparent reason.
“The attacks are pretty consistent,” Gholson says, who was shocked to go into Ohio and find out medical marijuana proponents are not under attack. “Schuette unified our movement. He has brought people who don’t care about marijuana on any level, but who do care about freedom and democracy, to our side.”
I guess that’s a different kind of backlash.
Things seem to be moving forward with Uruguay’s bid to become the first nation to legalize marijuana. The nation is waiting for the Senate to pass the legalization bill that has already passed in the lower house of the General Assembly.
That is expected to happen in a couple of weeks. There is no significant opposition to the bill. In the meantime, rules are being set up. Individuals will be able to grow as many as six plants in their homes.
Pharmacies will sell marijuana for $1 a gram, undercutting the $1.40-gram price on the black market. In contrast, according to priceofweed.com, marijuana in Michigan is going from about $11 to $18 a gram. After joining a marijuana registry, Uruguayans will be allowed to buy up to 40 grams per month.
A Friend Passes
Billionaire philanthropist Peter Lewis died Nov. 23; he was 80 years old. Lewis was CEO of the Ohio-based Progressive Insurance Company for more than 40 years. He put his money behind many, uh, progressive causes, including marijuana legalization. Lewis used marijuana to manage pain after a partial leg amputation. Since the 1980s, Lewis donated an estimated $40 million to $60 million for marijuana legalization causes. He donated $3 million to the Marijuana Policy Project, and $7 million to the American Civil Liberties Union’s drug litigation task force.
The marijuana movement has made great strides in recent years in large part because of Lewis’ generous backing. Now it will be hard-pressed to replace the kinds of funds he provided. Lewis was an inspirational figure to marijuana legalization activists everywhere and will be sorely missed. mt