Two Morals: 1) Be Persistant, and 2) False Allegations Can Happen In A Flash

Yesterday our office was retained to represent an individual who had just had his house raided and had ultimately been arrested by a member of the DEA. Neil and I are what we like to call “Criminal Offense Attorneys,” so we took the offensive.

I immediately went over to the Police Department where our client was being held. I walked into the department and spoke to the woman at the front desk. I was cordial with her, despite the fact that she was on a personal call and told me to hang on (keep in mind that this was the woman sitting in at the front desk of a police department.) She put her finger up and while on the phone, she mouthed at me “gimme a minute.” I waited patiently. After about two minutes she finally hung up the phone and asked what I wanted. I gave her my client’s name and asked if he was being held there. She made a phone call and said “yes.” I then asked to speak with my client. She told me “No.” I responded that I didn’t understand. I explained that I was his lawyer, that we had been retained, that they were holding my client without charges, without a bond, and without allowing him access to a lawyer. She replied, “I’m not getting in the middle of this. I’ll get the Sergeant.”

A few minutes later, the Sergeant stepped out from a back office. I started from the beginning. I handed him my Bar card, my business card, and my license and told him that I was an attorney, that I was retained to represent the person they were holding, and that I just wanted to speak to my client. He told me “No. You can’t see your client. He’s being held by the DEA and we have nothing to do with him.” I asked him for the name of the DEA agent and he said he would have to find out. He disappeared into his office and closed the door. Several minutes later he came back out, gave me the DEA agent’s name, and told me that the DEA agent was in the field and could not be reached. I responded that I would wait in the lobby until he was able to reach the DEA Agent.

Over the next SEVERAL HOURS I waited patiently in the lobby. Numerous times over those several hours, I asked to speak with the Sergeant so that I could gain more information. I inquired why I was being prevented from seeing my client (“I don’t have permission from the DEA Agent”), I asked for the name of the Assistant US Attorney assigned to the case (“I don’t know that information and I can’t get a hold of the DEA Agent”), I asked for the contact information for the DEA Agent (“I cannot give you that”), I asked for a specific time that the DEA would return (“I don’t know”), and I requested that the DEA Agent call my cell phone (“He’s in the field and can’t call you”). At every turn, the Sergeant attempted to thwart my attempts to talk to my client. Nevertheless, I repeatedly informed him that any questioning that occurred after I had arrived was unlawful, illegal, and coercively conducted, and that any information received was illegally obtained.

Was I being persistent? Definitely. Was I being annoying? Probably. Was I going to leave that Department without seeing my client? Absolutely not.

Eventually, after about 3.5 hours of waiting, I asked the Sergeant for the name and phone number of the DEA Agent’s superior at the Department of Justice. The Sergeant disappeared into his office again and came back out five minutes later. Somehow he had magically been able to get a hold of the DEA Agent and was told that the Agent would be at the Department in 30 minutes. I sat back down, patiently waiting.

A half hour later the DEA Agent walked in. I introduced myself and explained that I simply wanted to talk to my client for a few minutes. He told me that they were still investigating and that I could not see my client. I persisted. I asked him to provide me the legal authority he had that would allow him to prevent me from meeting with my client. He couldn’t give me any. I again asked to see my client. This time he changed his reason: “You can’t because there is nowhere in this building to visit with your client.” I explained that I would meet with him anywhere – I didn’t care which room or which building. He knew he was trapped.

At that point I demanded to see my client. I informed him that he was under arrest, that he was not free to leave, that he was being held indefinitely and that if I was not permitted to see him, I would have to get a judge involved. At that moment he knew that I wasn’t leaving without seeing him – and he got angry. He immediately accused me of being “disorderly” and “harassing” the police officers at the department. I responded that those were serious allegations that he could not back up. I told him that there were several cameras in the lobby and pointed them out, and that I had been 100% cordial with everyone at the Department. He looked up at the cameras and realized that he had made a mistake. I again demanded to see my client and told him that I wasn’t leaving the Department until I was allowed to do so.

A short time later, Neil called me and informed me that the Agent had agreed to let me see my client “in an hour to an hour and a half.” I waited patiently in the lobby. Ninety minutes later, I met with my client (in a room labeled “visitation” – remember when there wasn’t a room in existence for me to meet with my client?).

All of the other lawyers that walked in asking to see their clients were told “no” and they accepted it and left. I wasn’t going to be turned away that easily. It was a small battle, but I persisted and won.

As for the allegations that I was “disorderly” and “harassing”? Lucky for me, all of my interactions in that lobby were recorded. Otherwise, the Agent might have gotten away with those false allegations.

– Colin

Medical marijuana dispensaries, taxes and edibles approved by Michigan House

LANSING, MI — The Michigan House on Wednesday signed off on sweeping plans to create a highly-regulated medical marijuana industry and allow patients to purchase the drug at storefront dispensaries, which would be taxed.

“These are regulated, inspected facilities where patients can feel safe obtaining their medicine,” said Rep.. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, who sponsored the dispensary legislation.

House Bill 4209, approved in a 95-11 vote and now heading to the Senate, would create a new state board to license dispensaries, large-scale growers, processors, distributors and testing facilities in communities that allow them.

The House also approved bills to create a “seed-to-sale” tracking system for medical marijuana and extend legal protections to registered patients who prefer to use non-smokable forms of the drug, including edibles and oils.

A series of state court rulings have clouded the legal status of dispensaries and marijuana-infused products, which some patients — and parents with sick kids — find more effective and healthier than smoking.

“This is not a criminal justice issue, this is a health issue, and even more it’s a moral issue,” said Rep. Lisa Lyons, R-Alto, who sponsored the edibles bill. “Put yourself in these peoples’ place. What would you do if it was your child?”

Combined, the three-bill package proposes the most significant changes to Michigan’s medical marijuana program since voters approved use of the drug in 2008, but it would not eliminate the current patient-caregiver system that allows for limited home growing.

Dispensary owners would be required to pay a 3-percent tax on their gross retail income, and proceeds would be divided between local municipalities, counties, sheriff’s and the state’s general fund. Patients would also be required to pay Michigan’s 6-percent sales tax on dispensary purchases.

An earlier draft of the bill would have seen the state impose an 8 percent tax on dispensaries, but critics argued the higher rate would have led to unreasonable prices for patients and encouraged continued trade on the black market.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, called the updated bills “imperfect , but a good compromise,” a sentiment also expressed by Robin Schneider of the National Patients Rights Association.

“I think it’s a workable system,” Schneider said earlier Wednesday before the vote. “It will provide safe access for patients and require testing, proper packaging and labeling. This will be good for patients.”

But some long-time medical marijuana advocates remain unhappy the the proposed distribution system, which would create additional bureaucracy and prohibit registered caregivers from selling their excess home-grown pot to dispensaries.

“The biggest problem we’re concerned about is the criminality of people involved in medical marijuana,” said Matthew Abel, an attorney and executive director of Michigan NORML. “While these bills go quite far in allowing infused products and dispensaries, they freeze out of the system all the people who are currently growing. All of them.”

The regulatory system would not be cheap to maintain. The House Fiscal Agency estimates that the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Michigan State Police and the attorney general’s office would have to employ more than 100 full-time employees to handle licensing, enforcement and prosecution related to medical marijuana.

To cover those costs, the state would require licensees to pay application fees and an annual regulatory assessment. One bill specifies that the assessment for a CLASS A grower, who would be allowed to maintain 500 plants, could not exceed $10,000, but other rates are not specified.

The House approved less strenuous dispensary and edible legislation last year, but the bills were buried in the Senate when law enforcement officials raised concerns about the “uncharted course” they would forge.

This time around, Callton made it a point to seek input from law enforcement groups earlier in the legislative process, and he said the looming possibility of full legalization in Michigan — there are already two petition drives underway — made police officials more willing to consider medical regulations.

“They saw it happen in Colorado, they saw it happen in Washington, and they said it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Callton said.”So let’s create some sort of regulation and some sort of oversight that makes sense before this happens.”

Still, the new-look bills face an uncertain future in the Senate, where previous proposals stalled out last year. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Rick Jones said he’ll likely study the bills for a couple of weeks before taking any action, but does not expect to wait too long.

“I’m disappointed that they lowered the tax. I think that was a mistake, and we’re going to revisit that,” Jones, a Grand Ledge Republican and former sheriff, said earlier Wednesday before the House vote.

“I’m going to make sure that Michigan State Police, the sheriffs, the chiefs of police and the prosecutors are on board, so I may have to tighten it up a bit, but I do anticipate passing the bills.”

via MLive

Detroit council passes rules for marijuana shops

The Detroit City Council today approved a set of licensing regulations for the city’s booming medical marijuana industry. A separate set of zoning rules about where the pot shops can operate in the city is still being discussed.

Councilman James Tate said it’s the city’s responsibility to address residents’ concerns about the marijuana dispensaries. He said the licensing rules allow people to receive their medicine.

“Right now, there’s no ordinance to allow for these places to exist,” Tate said. “That compassion is there…because it allows these facilities to exist.”

The council voted 6-1 to approve the licensing rules. The ordinance won’t take effect until the zoning portion of the marijuana regulations is decided.

Under the licensing ordinance, existing medical marijuana shops would have to get a license or be shut down. There are about 150 in the city now. Operators of the shops would be subject to a police background check and drive-through service would be prohibited. The ordinance also sets an inspection process.

Councilman George Cushingberry Jr., who cast the lone “no” vote, said the council rushed the vote. He said he wanted to submit amendments but didn’t have time since Monday’s public hearing. Cushingberry repeatedly tried to offer amendments to the ordinance at today’s meeting but was ruled out of order.

“Nobody seems to have any compassion for the people who have to receive this medicine,” Cushingberry said. “What is the rush?”

Other council members said there has been ample time to draft amendments.

“We owe it to the citizens of Detroit to answer to their concerns,” Councilwoman Janee Ayers said. “This is not something that happened overnight.”

Councilmembers Mary Sheffield and Scott Benson were absent from the vote.

via Freep

Detroit City Council vote gives credibility to city’s 150 marijuana dispensaries

DETROIT, MI — Detroit City Council Tuesday passed an ordinance 6-1 that gives the city the ability to license the growing number of marijuana dispensaries.

The next step toward legitimizing dispensaries within the the city limits will come Thursday when the City Council votes on aspects of zoning.

Despite a state Supreme Court ruling in 2013 that determined medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal, Detroit law enforcement has turned a blind eye to the nearly 150 dispensaries that have sprouted up since the voters passed the Medical Marijuana Act in 2008.

Loveland Technologies, a data-mapping organization, in October verified the locations of nearly every Detroit dispensary.

They go by names like Green Pharm; Midtown Budz; Meds-Mart; and Pure Michigan Wellness.

Loveland found that nearly 2/3 of the dispensaries are within 1.15 miles of Detroit suburbs, which have for the most part been adversarial to medical marijuana businesses.

Sixty-two of the Detroit dispensaries are based within 1,000 feet of a school

The Council vote Tuesday gives the city power to establish business license guidelines, inspection requirements, a fee schedule and penalties. On Thursday the Council could vote on laws that determine how close such businesses can be to schools, liquor stores, parks and churches.

“It’s a good start,” says attorney Matt Abel, a co-founder of the Cannabis Counsel, a Detroit-based medical marijuana advocacy legal firm, referring to the proposed ordinances. “It seems fairly conservative to me, and we hope that they’er liberalize it as they move forward.”

Abel says the most recent version of the proposed zoning ordinance removes land zoned for industrial use, which he supports because it could require atients who are sick to visit some of the city’s most polluted areas for their medicine.

Abel would like to see a reduction in the distance that would be required for a dispensary to be from a park.

Abel says the proposed distance is 1000 feet. He’d like to see that reduced to 500 feet.

What seems clear from the Loveland dispensary report and the City Council action, is that Detroit’s medical marijuana industry is here to stay for quite some time.

“Marijuana retail is clearly a growth business,” Loveland wrote in its dispensary report. “The numbers in this report have had to be revised upwards several times as new dispensaries opened, and more are expected to open in the near future.”

via MLive

Brothers charged with delivering, manufacturing marijuana

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Seven months after a fire enveloped a house in the 6800 block of Apple Blossom, two men have been arrested for delivering and manufacturing marijuana in the house.

Twenty-six-year-old Joseph Semma and 25-year-old Justin Semma were charged with two-count felonies for delivering and manufacturing 5 to 45 kilograms of marijuana. One count is for 28 pounds of loose marijuana, and the other count is for the 28 mature and 28 immature marijuana plants found in the house, according to West Bloomfield Police Detective Pete Canelopoulos.

The brothers were arraigned in 48th District Court Sept. 10. Joseph Semma received a $10,000 or 10 percent cash/surety bond, and Justin Semma received a $5,000 or 10 percent cash/surety bond.

Neil Rockind, defense attorney for Joseph Semma, said that at this time, not much is known about the allegations.

“After speaking with my client, however, I anticipate a prompt and favorable outcome once the court proceedings get underway. As is our practice, we will let our work in the courtroom speak for itself,” Rockind said.

Justin Semma did not have an attorney on file with the district court at press time.

Fire crews from Fire Station No. 2 arrived at the house at around 9 p.m. Dec. 29, 2014, and found the garage of the approximately 4,000-square-foot house fully involved in the fire. Heavy smoke was reportedly coming from the roof, and the fire had spread to a vehicle parked in the driveway.

Crews from four fire stations responded to the fire, and crew members initially set up operations for an offensive attack. After several explosions occurred, crew members entered into defensive operations. The explosions were originally thought to be caused by fireworks, but after the fire, firefighters found compressed gas cylinders. The structure was presumed to be a total loss.

West Bloomfield Deputy Fire Marshal Byron Turnquist said the fire is still under investigation.

West Bloomfield police officers recovered 80-90 cans of butane from the house, and Canelopoulos said that officers believe the brothers were making marijuana wax. A limited amount of wax was recovered at the house, but “whatever was left was pretty much burned up,” which is why the brothers are not being charged for the wax, Canelopoulos said.

“We know they were making wax, but even making wax, they didn’t purposely set the fire,” Canelopoulos said. “(Wax) is supposed to be very, very potent and very dangerous to make. … When you make this, you have a 50-50 chance of your house catching fire.”

via C&G News

Police urged to more quickly return biological evidence

SOUTHFIELD (AP) >> A former prosecutor is among those who want Michigan State Police to quickly return biological evidence collected from crime suspects after acquittal.

The agency can store samples containing DNA such as blood for months after a case is resolved, unless a court intervenes, The Detroit News reported. But Neil Rockind, a former assistant Oakland County prosecutor, said police shouldn’t keep biological property.

“We’re starting to see a scaling back of individual rights because the police have such great power and are overreaching,” said Rockind, who runs a Southfield-based firm. “The state of science today is nothing compared to what it will be in two or five years.”

State police spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said biological samples are destroyed two years after they’re collected, but can be kept longer if, for example, prosecutors’ offices request it. Brown said they destroy a blood samples sooner if ordered by a court.

“We retain blood samples for two years because of the potential for retesting and/or additional testing, if ordered by the courts,” Brown said. “The two-year time period provides sufficient time for a case to make it through adjudication.”

The cost of storing the samples is minimal, the agency said.

Rockind was involved in a legal effort to have authorities return the blood sample of a client who was acquitted of a drunken driving charge. He said state police told him his client’s blood samples belonged to the police agency that drew the blood.

An Oakland County judge disagreed and state police released the sample.

“The worry is that they have someone’s DNA and health profile,” Rockind said. “What if the lab mixes up the blood sample? I don’t like the state having that much of a person’s biological property. There is no reason to keep it if the person is acquitted.”

Body fluid samples are not returned to individuals without a court order because that could present a bio-hazard and jeopardize public safety, Michigan State University forensics specialist David Foran said.

Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union, said her organization has been working on the issue of “biological property.” The ACLU was behind efforts to get a provision into law to make sure a person’s DNA is destroyed after the individual is cleared of a crime.

“DNA tells a person’s life story,” Weisberg said.

via Macomb Daily