DEA, State Cops Raid Legal Michigan Medical Marijuana Grows

December 07, 2010

Phillip Smith, Drug War Chronicle

Once again, this time last week in Michigan, the federal DEA has teamed up with recalcitrant state and local law enforcement in a bid to negate the will of the public and the law of the land. Heavily-armed state and federal lawmen raided a pair of medical marijuana gardens in the town of Okemos, outside Lansing, breaking windows, throwing smoke grenades, and seizing thousands of dollars worth of equipment and medical marijuana plants -- all in a raid of a facility that is undeniably within the confines of Michigan's medical marijuana law. The gardens subleased to two individual caregivers by Capital City Care Givers in nearby Lansing contained a total of 40 marijuana plants. Under the Michigan law, caregivers can grow up to 12 plants each for up to five patients, as well as growing 12 plants for themselves if they are patients. That means the two caregivers should have been legally protected in growing up to 72 plants each, or 144 in total.

The apparent hole in the law that the DEA and the state police could be seeking to exploit is that the law does not directly address the issue of conjoined grows. It says only that caregivers can grow up to 12 plants for up to five patients and does not address more than one caregiver growing under the same roof. On the other hand, the law does not forbid such activities.

"This was an operation of the state police and the DEA," said Detroit medical marijuana activist Tim Beck. "The state police couldn’t even get a warrant from a local judge, so the DEA had to get one from a federal judge in Grand Rapids. The state police claim that they are captives of the local prosecutor, but in this case, the local prosecutor didn't cooperate with them, so they went around him to the feds."

"We were completely in compliance with the law," said Ryan Basore, proprietor of Capitol City Care Givers, whose grow was hit. "We had contacted the local, county, and state police, and they all gave the go ahead and said we were doing it legally. We had two different attorneys write up the leases and go through plant counts and make sure everything was correctly separated. Every caregiver was well under the limit."

That didn't stop the DEA, the state police, and the Tri-county Metro Narcotics Squad from behaving as if they were busting an Al Qaeda cell. Raiding agents threw smoke bombs in the building, paraded around with AK-47s, and stole the marijuana being grown by legally compliant caregivers. When asked about the Holder memo, the agents acted as if they were above the law. "Obama is not our president," Basore reported the agents saying."The people wanted change," Basore overheard another agent say as they effectively laughed in the face of their own superiors.

"All I can tell you is that this is an ongoing investigation in which we procured the search warrant," said Detroit DEA spokesman Special Agent Rich Isaacson. "Just because someone makes a claim that it is medical marijuana doesn't make it so."

When asked about the October 2009 Justice Department memo urging the DEA to quit going after medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal, Isaacson appeared to agree with the memo, but then suggested Capital Caregivers was somehow outside the state law. "If it's unambiguous that they're following state law, there would be better ways for the department to spend its resources," he said.

"Our mission is to target large scale drug trafficking groups," Isaacson said, but clammed up when confronted with the fact that the raids had seized only 40 plants. "That number may or may not be accurate," was all he would say.

Basore has been a prominent figure in the state's medical marijuana movement. He is a member of various cannabis patient groups and the Michigan Association of Compassionate Care Centers. He's been available to local and state media, and as a result, he has a very high profile. That could have been why he was targeted, his supporters suggested.

"This raid came about because Ryan Basore was in the media for the past few weeks talking about his desire to have regulated dispensaries," said Detroit attorney Matthew Abel. "He is a very successful businessman in this industry, and I think they just decided to take him down. They do that to anyone who goes public, and that's highly retaliatory against our First Amendment rights. He was talking to the press, so they took him out. That's pretty nasty."

"Ryan is high-profile, he's politically active and on TV all the time, but he's also scrupulously honest," said Beck. "That operation was absolutely straight up," he said.

"We're very troubled by the continuing raids involving the DEA that are occurring around the country, and we've been saying this for a long time," said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. "It is not the purview of the federal government to enforce state or local laws. If the feds believe state or local law may have been violated, they should leave those cases to the state to prosecute. Only then we will find out if there were in fact violations of state or local law, because if those cases go to federal court, prosecutors will not risk opening the door to a medical marijuana defense," he said.

"The DEA conducts these raids and provides very little evidence of state law violations," said Hermes. "They rarely, if ever, produce any actual physical evidence of state law violations."

It's not just Michigan where the DEA is acting out, said Hermes. "We've seen well over 20 DEA raids since Justice issued its memo, and while that is for sure a less aggressive posture than the Bush administration, any raids are unacceptable if they are going to undermine the implementation of a state's medical marijuana law," he said. "That has been the effect in California and Colorado, where the DEA attempts to undermine the state medical marijuana law," Hermes argued.

"US attorneys have received notice that there was a change in policy, and that has filtered down to DEA agents across the country in medical marijuana states," Hermes continued. "Eric Holder and the Obama administration have given pretty broad latitude to use discretion in enforcing federal marijuana laws in medical marijuana states, and it's mostly US attorneys and DEA field agents who consider their targets to be violating state or local law. The shadow of the Justice Department memo is coloring enforcement actions, and hopefully we'll see fewer raids in the future, but it's that discretion that has resulted in the continuing raids."

"The DEA has been all over Michigan trying to subvert this law, running around recommending that municipalities pass laws saying that any activity which is contrary to state local or federal law is also illegal," Beck noted.  "That is being challenged in court by the ACLU."

For Basore, it's not just about picking up the pieces and starting over. "I'm thinking about suing the state of Michigan, said Basore. "I think I have an entrapment case. I would never have broken the law unless I was told it was okay to do, and some of those who told me it was okay were in on the raids."

And it is full speed ahead, recalcitrant state police and DEA be damned. "We haven't been charged with anything, we're legal to grow in Michigan, and our patients need their medicine," said Basore. "If they are going to rob us at gunpoint again, they're going to do it. But we'll keep doing what we're doing, we have the law on our side."

The feds don't even have to prosecute to have inflict severe pain, Abel said. "They clean you out, and then where are you?"

"There will be bankruptcies filed because of this," said Basore. "Most of our caregivers are in the their 60s, and they're not rich."

The DEA and reactionary state law enforcement officials are once again showing serious signs of thinking they are above the law. Someone needs to rein them in, whether through lawsuits, in the streets, or at the ballot box. 

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