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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Michigan news for January 2018 - by Kathy Hess

Judges Sees Obstruction

Few people were in attendance in a courtroom north of Detroit, mid December, to hear the judge reprimanded a prosecutor for delaying the return of a bank account with $11,000 that she previously ruled was improperly seized by drug investigators.

“This hints at more than just a mistake. This continuous action hints at obstruction,” Judge Chabot said, citing the 22 months it took to obey a court order and unfreeze the account. Chabot even fined the prosecutor; awarding $2,500 “in sanctions” to defense attorneys.

This case was to get back the joint bank account of a mother and son, which was seized in November of 2014 — an account containing $10,938, of which $10,000 belonged not to medical-marijuana user Donny Barnes, 42, of Orion Township, but to   Barnes’ mother.

But, as Barnes is quick to point out, he was not convicted of anything. A different judge, in a criminal trial in February, dismissed the only charge against him — marijuana possession with intent to distribute — after ruling that police failed to establish probable cause for raiding Barnes' house, office and warehouse.

Law enforcers have a powerful financial incentive to seize property because the property becomes a significant revenue source for police budgets, above and beyond their limited public support from tax revenues. As civil forfeiture became more widely understood, and, some say, abused, critics have stepped forward from across the political spectrum.

“That’s the deal that law enforcement strikes with the many people who lack means to defend themselves, and so they choose giving up their property when they’re threatened with a criminal trial and possibly going to prison if they lose,” said attorney David Moffitt, one of several lawyers who has represented Donny Barnes.

“My client is different — he has the means to hire me and other attorneys to fight the totally unjustified seizure of his property, "Moffitt said. He added: "This case is showing that when people are able to do that, the unbridled power of the police and prosecutors to use drug forfeiture laws can be brought to heel.”

To get back the joint bank account of about $11,000, Barnes said he "probably spent almost $100,000 in attorney fees.”

House Bill 4158 (Criminal procedure; forfeiture; asset forfeiture; require a criminal conviction before proceeding.), was stuck this year in the House Judiciary Committee — which will go to vote in 2018.

Warning on Weed

LANSING - Legislation has advanced in the House that would require warning labels on marijuana products, just as we see on tobacco products.

The state House, in mid December, appropriated a bill requiring marijuana goods to carry a warning that use by pregnant or breastfeeding women may result in birth complications or negative long-term effects for the child.

House Bill 5222 was approved by a 104 to 6 vote; it now advances to the state Senate for consideration. Under the bill, the health warning would be printed in clearly legible type, surrounded by a continuous heavy line.

“Providing a warning label on marijuana products is necessary because women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may use marijuana to treat such conditions as morning sickness,” said state Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, who sponsored the bill.

“Some studies show that children exposed to marijuana before birth had ‘lower scores on tests of visual problem solving, visual-motor coordination and visual analysis’ than children who were not exposed,’’ according to a report from the House Fiscal Agency.

Both the ACOG and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that marijuana be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding. In 2015 the American Medical Association called for warning labels on marijuana products, claiming use of marijuana during pregnancy and breastfeeding could be harmful to babies.

Alaska, Colorado, and Washington already require warning labels informing consumers that marijuana should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Tea in the Bay

BAY CITY- Earlier this month, the City Commission made amendments to the marijuana ordinance to increase the number of grower and dispensary licenses, as well as allow growers to stack licenses under one roof and change the buffer zones around schools, churches and law enforcement centers.
The Bay City Commission on Monday, Dec. 18, voted 7-1 to approve an ordinance regulating the industry throughout the city. As approved, the city can issue up to 50 licenses for as dispensaries, and 25 licenses for each class of grower. The Mayor, Kathleen Newsham, has until end of business Thursday, Dec. 21, to veto the ordinance approval.

Pending any hiccups, the earliest date businesses could submit an application was Tuesday, Dec. 26. Once an application is complete, applicants are required to submit it to the Bay City Clerk's office along with a $5,000, nonrefundable application fee.

Chemists at the city's wastewater treatment plant are then scheduled to review each business for an industrial wastewater discharge permit. The Bay City Public Safety Department will also perform background checks on all business owners. The city's planning department will also review site plans, and building and code enforcement will review all new construction plans.

Based on those reviews, City Manager Dana Muscott then either gives a yes or no recommendation for a license to the Bay City Commission for approval. The commission has the final say on all licenses. Those who are granted approval will then have to apply for the State license.
No Rush on the Reefer
LANSING — On a chilly, snow-white morning the State of Michigan began accepting applications for commercial cannabis licenses. Despite the much anticipated 15th of December, the day started with a whimper, rather than the bang which state regulators had prepared for. Two hours after the doors opened at the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, only two people had arrived to turn in their applications for commercial medical marijuana licenses.

Two Michigan State Police officers stood on guard outside, waiting along the stanchions and red velvet ropes that formed a line for a thrall of people that didn't show up.
Online was a different story, 68 people submitted at least some of the documents required to apply for a medical marijuana license and five of those people turned in completed applications and paid the $6,000 fee. But only nine people showed up at LARA offices in Lansing to turn in applications.
Andrew Brisbo, director of the state's Bureau of Medical Marijuana Licensing, stayed up all night at the department watching as applications started to roll in online.
"It was exciting. It's the culmination of a years worth of hard work," he said.

Lawmakers tried for several years to regulate the marijuana market and legalize non-smokable forms of medical marijuana, such as baked goods, candies and infused oils, but couldn't get a package together that gained enough support until last year.
Now with a fully regulated market, five categories of licenses (grower, processor, testing facility, secure transporter and dispensaries) which are expected to begin to be handed out in the spring by the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board.
And then legal sales and growing operations can begin for the 266,000 Michiganders who have medical marijuana cards.
But on Friday, with four stations open and ready to accept applications, state officials said it was better to be ready for a crowd, especially with nearly 2,000 people showing up for classes held around the state last month to explain the licensing process

"One of the challenging things all along was predicting how many applications we'd get and how many people there would be," Brisbo said. "We wanted to over prepare versus under prepare. We've been consistently surprised with the interest that we've had with everything that we've done since the passage of these bills."

There is no deadline for applications with the state. Under the law, the state cannot put limits on the number of licenses awarded. However cities, townships and villages can determine if they want medical marijuana businesses in their towns or not, and how many businesses they'll allow, if any.

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