Pubdate: Sun, 03 Apr 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company
Author: Christopher Ingraham


A self-described Michigan "soccer mom" who had "every belonging" 
taken from her family in a drug raid has been cleared of all criminal 
charges, 19 months after heavily armed drug task force members 
ransacked her home and her business. But in many ways, her ordeal is 
only beginning.

Annette Shattuck and her husband, Dale, had been facing felony 
charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, 
possession with intent to manufacture marijuana and maintaining a 
drug house. But last month, Michigan Circuit Court Judge Daniel Kelly 
threw out all criminal complaints filed against the Shattucks "on the 
grounds of entrapment by estoppel," according to court filings. 
Entrapment by estoppel occurs when a government official leads a 
defendant to think that their conduct is permissible under the law.

The Shattucks' case is an illustration of how the nation's patchwork 
marijuana laws can be a confusing mess for patients, businesses and 
law enforcement officials alike. Nearly two dozen states have medical 
marijuana laws, but they vary significantly. And even within states, 
various arms of government have clashed over how the laws are 
interpreted and enforced.

In 2014, the Shattucks were starting up a marijuana dispensary under 
Michigan's medical marijuana law. They worked to ensure every last 
detail was in full compliance with the law as they understood it: 
They obtained the permission of the landlord of the building where 
the dispensary, called the DNA Wellness Center, was to be housed. 
They went to local planning commission meetings to obtain the proper 
permits and licenses.

The town building inspector checked the property and approved the 
signage. According to court documents, the Shattucks even called the 
local sheriff 's drug task force to invite them to inspect the 
property and verify their compliance with the law.

"We really went above and beyond," Annette Shattuck said in an 
interview. "We asked for help. We went out of our way to make sure 
that everything was legit."

Butthe task force never inspected the property. Instead, acting on an 
anonymous tip that marijuana was being sold at the location, agents 
of the St. Clair County Drug Task Force conducted a number of 
"controlled buys," where informants with medical marijuana cards 
entered the dispensary and made purchases. That gave them enough 
probable cause to execute a raid.

Michigan's existing voter-approved medical marijuana law doesn't 
address the legal status of dispensaries, leaving room for 
conflicting interpretations. The Shattucks' case is an example of 
what some drug policy experts say are the shortcomings of writing 
drug policy via ballot initiative. A more carefully considered piece 
of legislation may have clarified the gray areas that led to the raid 
on the Shattucks' home and business, for instance.

Michigan's medical marijuana law, approved by voters in 2008, "is a 
very confusing statute," according to Stephen Guilliat, chief 
assistant prosecutor for St. Clair County, where the dispensary was 
located. "Whoever drafted it was either crazy as a fox or didn't know 
what they were doing."

Of the 22 states plus the District with medical marijuana laws on the 
books, only Michigan, Montana and Alaska do not allow for medical 
marijuana to be sold from dispensaries. Patients in those states are, 
however, allowed to cultivate limited numbers of marijuana plants 
themselves, according to marijuana reform group NORML. Michigan's 
legislature has been working on legislation that would allow 
regulated dispensaries, but progress has been slow.

Technically, the Shattucks' dispensary should not have been approved 
by the town planning commission, because the law does not provide for 
selling marijuana in dispensaries, Guilliat said. "I think the 
township probably thought they were doing the right thing, without 
knowing what the law says," he added.

On July 28, 2014 - not long after the couple reached out to them to 
perform a compliance check - task force agents raided both the 
dispensary and the Shattucks' home. In addition to charging the 
Shattucks with marijuana-related drug crimes, they took a lawnmower, 
a bicycle, their daughter's birthday money, their marriage 
certificate and numerous other belongings, according to Annette 
Shattuck's testimony before the Michigan House last year.

But Judge Kelly ruled last month that, because the town planning 
commission had signed off on the dispensary and because the Shattucks 
thought they were operating within the bounds of the law, "basic 
principles of due process preclude prosecution in this case."

Annette Shattuck says "it's beyond exciting" to have the criminal 
charges cleared. But the tough work of getting her forfeited property 
back has only begun.

Under asset forfeiture laws, police are allowed to seize and keep 
property suspected of involvement in a crime, regardless of whether 
the property's owners are ever convicted-or even charged, in many 
cases. Michigan's laws are particularly skewed against property 
owners, according to a 2015 report from the Institute for Justice. 
The nonprofit civil liberties law firm gave Michigan a D-minus on its 
forfeiture laws, citing "poor protections for innocent property 
owners" and policies that allow police to keep up to 100 percent of 
the proceeds from forfeited property, creating a profit motive for 
seizing belongings.

Annette Shattuck says that since the charges have been dismissed, the 
drug task force has returned some of her property. But much of it is 
damaged. Electronic items are missing power cords and remotes. They 
returned her husband's guns and the safe he stored them in, but they 
didn't return the key. Shattuck says her marriage and birth 
certificates haven't been returned, and because the task force does 
not itemize seized documents in its paperwork, it has no record of taking them.

"We had plans to get the property back and sell a lot of it to pay 
for legal fees," she said. "But now we can't."

Sheriff Tim Donnellon, who oversees the drug task force involved in 
the raid, said that if any items or components are missing from their 
returned property, it wasn't intentional. He said the Shattucks 
should get in touch with the police supervisors overseeing the 
return. "We'll make things right for her," he added.

Donnellon agrees with Guilliat, the assistant prosecutor, that murky 
statute language has made things difficult, not only for medical 
marijuana patients and care-givers but for law enforcement officials as well.

"Medical marijuana in Michigan is a nightmare," he said in an 
interview. "It's really shifting sand. It changes continually. It's 
really an Achilles' heel for law enforcement."

The tension between strict federal prohibition and state-level 
legalization is probably only to grow as more states consider 
changing their marijuana laws this year.

The pending charges had made it difficult for the Shattucks to find 
work. Annette's husband, Dale, had worked in construction before 
starting up the dispensary. But because the police seized all his 
tools, he had difficulty returning to his old line of work. They 
turned to borrowing money from friends and family. "We owe a lot of 
people a lot of money ," Shattucks aid ."We the kindness of 
relatives. If we didn't have them, we wouldn't have been able to do anything."

Even though all charges against her have been dropped, "I'm still not 
innocent in the perception of the community," she said. She recently 
tried to volunteer at an event at her children's school. But school 
officials told her that simply being charged with a drug felony was 
enough to bar her from volunteering there.

Guilliat, the assistant prosecutor for St. Clair County, says that 
knowing what they do now about the case, his office "would have never 
gotten involved." He added: "Since this case, there have been 
substantial changes due to the case interpretations of this very 
confusing statute. We now know more than we did back then - if it's a 
close call, we don't do it." Meaning, he said, that "we don't want to 
put people who think they're doing the right thing - even if they're 
not - through the system."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom