Pubdate: Sun, 17 Aug 2014
Source: Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (MI)
Copyright: 2014 Livingston Daily Press & Argus
Author: Lisa Roose-Church
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Michigan)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - U.S.)


Livingston County Sees 22 Percent Drop in Patients Over Two-Year Period

While Colorado is smoking pot -- medical and recreational -- by the 
ton, according to a recent report, the number of medical marijuana 
patients in Livingston County has decreased.

Proponents of medical marijuana say this is due to intimidation by 
law enforcement.

"Individual communities within each county are permissive or 
restrictive based on their own beliefs," said Rick Thompson, editor 
and blogger for The Compassion Chronicles. "Howell is not pleasant 
toward medical marijuana patients, but Livingston County rural areas 
are not quite as difficult."

Thompson said his opinion is based on "patient testimonials" and statistics.

Some of those statistics can be found in the Michigan Department of 
Licensing and Regulatory Affairs' annual report, which shows that the 
number of medical marijuana patients decreased to 1,786 in 2013 -- a 
4 percent drop from the prior year and a 22 percent drop from 2011.

However, the use of the illegal drug appears to be alive and well, as 
Michigan State Police statistics show that an estimated 73 percent of 
all 2012 drug arrests in Livingston County were marijuana-related, 
which Thompson said bolsters the perception law enforcement is unduly 
targeting marijuana, which he calls a "victimless crime."

"It's not an addiction issue like heroin," he explained. "I would 
rather have police concentrate on drugs that lead to death and 
violence, not marijuana. ...

"If I were a drug officer, I can choose to pursue marijuana 
operations or methamphetamine operations," Thompson added. "I'm not 
saying marijuana is something they should not pay attention to, but 
on a grand scheme of things, pursuing marijuana to 74 percent means 
there must be other dangerous drugs not being given attention."

LAWNET -- the Livingston and Washtenaw Narcotics Enforcement Team -- 
is the multijurisdictional agency tasked with investigating illegal 
drugs in Livingston County.

Commanders and officers of undercover drug units like LAWNET 
typically do not provide information to the media about their 
investigations and seizures because they say it will compromise an 
ongoing investigation or their ability to work confidential informants.

According to LAWNET statistics, the group in 2013 seized about 2,452 
pounds -- including plants -- of marijuana, a 13 percent decrease 
from the prior year and a 41 percent decrease from 2009.

The perception in the medical marijuana community, Thompson noted, is 
that LAWNET officers are specifically targeting medical marijuana 
patients and/or caregivers.

However, Livingston County Prosecutor William Vailliencourt said that 
is not true.

"They respond to complaints. If they get a complaint someone is 
growing (marijuana or) ... selling a controlled substance, they will 
look at it and investigate," he said. "I think most people appreciate 
knowing (LAWNET) is investigating a drug house in their 
neighborhood." Enforcing the law

Vailliencourt said when officers encounter someone who claims he or 
she is a registered patient or caregiver under the Michigan Medical 
Marihuana Act, they have a duty to investigate that the person is 
following the law.

If the person is in compliance with the law -- which limits the 
amount of marijuana a person can possess, who has access and how it's 
stored -- then the officers have the discretion "to say, 'Have a nice 
day,' and be on their way," Vailliencourt said.

"If they're not in compliance ... then that's a violation, and police 
will seize (the marijuana)," he added. "We'll look to see if it's 
truly in compliance, and if not, how significant the violation -- if 
it's a few plants over or not properly segregated."

Vailliencourt said there have been instances where officers presented 
a medical marijuana case, but his office has declined to issue 
charges either because it's within the law or it's a "technical 
violation." If the latter, Vailliencourt said his office may not 
authorize charges if it's not an appropriate use of resources.

The bottom line with the existing Michigan law, Vailliencourt said, 
is it's premised on conduct that is "ultimately illegal under federal law."

"That's something that can't be overcome as long as federal law and 
state law is inconsistent," he noted.

Attorney Michael Komorn, whose Southfield practice focuses on 
defending medical marijuana patients and caregivers, said the state 
law was written "with a broad shield of protection in mind," but what 
lawyers are seeing is a "strict, limited application" of the law.

"I think it's silly," he said. "There's a lack of education and no 
real programs to educate the law enforcement community. ... There is 
no legitimate attempt by the government or law enforcement to look at 
it different."

Komorn, a board member of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, 
said he believes teams like LAWNET continue to misapply the law 
because "forfeitures continue to fund them."

As an example, Komorn cites a client's situation in which undercover 
officers went to the client's home, but his son, who was home alone, 
denied them access. Komorn said the undercover officers, who were 
looking for someone wanted on a warrant, threatened to call Child 
Protective Services. When that didn't work, he said, they returned 
the next morning with a search warrant based on the allegation they 
"smelled marijuana."

Komorn said his client, a registered medical marijuana caregiver, 
"was in compliance" with the state law when officers "kicked his door in."

"They were looking to turn it into a crime," the attorney said.
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