According to Michigan-based news, opinion and watchdog site, The Compassion Chronicles, despite the legal status of medical marijuana, Michigan sheriffs continue to bust legitimate patients and dispensaries, while they often misappropriate funds on ‘toys’–iPads, tasers, trucks, trailers, ‘fancy’ clothes–and other frivolous items.
The Michigan Medical Marijuana Program estimates the number of registered medical marijuana patients in the state approaches 100,000. Medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since 2008, yet Michigan law enforcement has reluctantly embraced the law of the land, frequently exploiting loopholes to arrest legitimate patients and shutting down legally compliant dispensaries, even seizing personal property for possessing small amounts of cannabis.
“The asset forfeiture laws in Michigan and throughout the United States have always been extremely troubling,” claims Denise Pollicella, Esq. a nationally recognized expert on cannabis law and founding partner of Cannabis Attorneys of Michigan.
Attorney Denise Pollicella continues, “The ability of law enforcement to seize not just assets they believe are related to illegal activity, but all of your assets so as to deprive you of being able to afford a good defense lawyer — and even worse, the ability of the government to actually sue the property owner in civil court for forfeiture of those assets before ever being charged with a crime — is an affront to our Constitution and should never be tolerated.”
Michigan cannabis-focused news-site, The Compassion Chronicles, recently reviewed the report, FY 2015 Report to the Legislature – Medical Marihuana Operation and Oversight Grants to County Law Enforcement Offices, and made their findings public. They claim that beyond arresting registered patients and closing legitimate dispensaries, a number of sheriff departments are misusing funds that are allocated for “education” and “enforcement” of existing law.
Key Observations Made by The Compassion Chronicles
It has become widespread practice among local sheriff offices to take advantage of tax revenues from the state’s medical marijuana program to make “questionable, possibly frivolous” purchases on everything from iPads to Tasers, and even new vehicles.
The results of the study are particularly disturbing as the intention of the revenues generated from the Michigan Medical Marijuana Program are to go to “educational” and “enforcement” endeavors on medical marijuana that are in line with the intent of the law, not to “purchase gadgets, new clothes or trucks”.
The Compassion Chronicles singles out Governor Rick Synder who signed House Bill 5313 last year, pointing out that the intent of the fund–which receives money from participating patients and caregivers–is to be used by local law enforcement specifically “for the operation and oversight of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Program” and the “operation and oversight grants are for education, communication and enforcement of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Program.”
Under the condition of anonymity, a source close to Governor Rick Snyder’s administration, who describes himself as “libertarian leaning conservative” claims, “I find these revelations particularly disturbing. It reeks of misappropriation, if not misuse of taxpayer funds and is undoubtedly fiscally irresponsible.” He continues, “the mandate was very clear in terms of where the funds are to be allocated, and it’s not for local law enforcement to enrich their departments with ‘goodies’ that are totally out of alignment with the intent of the law.”
Several Sheriff Departments Misuse Grant Money
Surprisingly, out of the 83 counties in Michigan who were eligible for grants, only four sheriff offices applied for grants. While all four departments were approved and received in aggregate, $167,000, according to The Compassionate Chronicles, much of the money was misused or misappropriated.
According to the report, the local sheriff’s department in Macomb County received more than $63,000, but the officers had “[no] opportunity to attend training.” However, the department was able to make a purchase of a 2015 Dodge Durango and a trailer to allegedly support them in investigating participants in the Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Program. However, there appears to be no evidence to support their claim.
Likewise, the Sanilac County Sheriff’s Office collected nearly $19,000 which they used to spend on dress clothing (allegedly for public presentations), other clothing to conduct raids, and a trailer to haul their ATVs. Further, findings from the report indicate that the department spent nearly $4,800 on iPads and approximately $5,400 on Tasers.
It should be noted, however, that not all four of the counties who received grant money completely neglected to use the funds for their intended purpose: to better educate their officers on the nuances of enforcement practices outlined in the Michigan Medical Marijuana Program guidelines. For example, the St. Clair County Drug Task provided officers a “much-needed 3-day training in Lansing” that provided officers education on marijuana grow operations. However, the majority of funds they received (81 percent) was used to pay officer salaries.
“The fact that law enforcement and prosecutors have deliberately exploited this system to intentionally target the medical marihuana community is reprehensible, but doesn’t seem to bother anybody, because every time you add the word ‘marihuana’ you get to shred the Constitution just a little bit more,” says Cannabis Attorneys of Michigan, Denise Pollicella, Esq. “This forfeiture money funds the militarization of our municipal police forces so that they can dress like they’re going into a war zone instead of somebody’s home. There should be a big plaque on every new police station thanking the cannabis community.”
Some departments, such as the St. Clair Sheriff’s Department, defended use of the funds to conduct flyover missions that would enable them to eradicate illegal marijuana grow operations, however, per the department’s own report, a question remains: why didn’t any of the money go towards helicopter fees?
- FY 2015 Report to the Legislature – Medical Marihuana Operation and Oversight Grants to County Law Enforcement Offices
- The Compassion Chronicles
- Michigan Medical Marijuana Association
- Michigan Medical Marihuana Program (MMMP)
- Marijuana Policy Project – Michigan
- Michigan Laws & Penalties – NORML