Patients, entrepreneurs: We're being driven underground

June 01, 2011

Bill Laitner, Livingston Daily

Michigan medical marijuana patients and the entrepreneurs who supply them with the drug say they're being driven underground by police raids.

Americans for Safe Access, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington, D.C., held workshops around Michigan last month advising people how to avoid police attention and what they should — or shouldn't — say during a raid. The group considers the police's actions in Michigan aggressive.

During a workshop at Ferndale's community center, Steph Sherer, executive director of the group, told people who operate dispensaries — people who sell the drug to medical users — that they should expect at some point to see shouting drug agents with pointed guns.

"Make sure no one tries to run and hide, because you could get shot," Sherer said.

Oakland County authorities have created one of the toughest places nationwide for medical marijuana users, Sherer said.

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said that during the last two years, her office has charged more than 100 individuals with selling medical marijuana.

A spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said the state law allowing medical marijuana "has nothing about authorizing dispensaries."

Michiganders who have been raided and arrested for using and supplying medical marijuana say police actions have decimated their jobs, assets and health.

On May 19, retired police dispatcher Barb Agro, 70, of Lake Orion got back $8,000 of nearly $12,000 in cash seized by Oakland County narcotics agents when officers raided her home in August.

Her two sons' homes were raided the same day. Her husband, Sal Agro, died that week of heart failure the morning of their arraignments. All were working in Ferndale for a dispensary, a shop that sold medical marijuana with the blessing of local officials but was closed by county authorities, who say the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act does not allow dispensaries.

"There is no provision (in the law) for dispensaries," Cooper said. "And other state statutes prohibit the dispensing of a Schedule I substance," such as marijuana.

Barb Agro faces criminal prosecution and possible jail time for growing and selling the drug.

She and 30 others who use and provide medical marijuana heard how to guard themselves against police raids last month at the Ferndale workshop. The staff from Americans for Safe Access cautioned patients not to give authorities any excuses to pull over their cars, inspect their yards or check out their dispensary sites.

"I'm teaching you what your rights are, not teaching you to break the law," Sherer told

the audience gathered inside Ferndale's Kulick Community Center.

Sherer has also led workshops in Ann Arbor, Flint and Muskegon. With arrests of medical marijuana users mounting, workshop speakers told participants that they, their family members, employees and even pets were vulnerable to police raids.

"The door should always be locked to your home. If police knock, say loudly, 'I don't consent to a search,' " said Sherer, a medical marijuana user who founded the nonprofit nine years ago.

Since then, the nonprofit has held workshops in most of the 16 states that allow medical marijuana, Sherer said.

Marshall Alternatives, a medical marijuana dispensary in Han-dy Township south of Fowlerville, was raided March 2 by the Livingston and Washtenaw Narcotics Enforcement Team.

So far, no charges had been filed.

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