Preliminary Testimony Begins in Ferndale Medical Marijuana Dispensary Case
The preliminary hearing in the Clinical Relief medical marijuana dispensary case began today in Ferndale and the proceeding was not without the dramatic flair one expects from a potentially epic test case.
Proceedings were held in the Ferndale Community Center because the local court is not large enough to accommodate a hearing that includes 10 defense lawyers, one for each defendant. The white cinderblock walls, linoleum floor, and drop ceiling of the temporary courtroom created an absurdist ambiance. And the absence of a sound system necessitated completely acoustic testimony and arguments.
Judge Joseph Longo presided from behind a makeshift bench consisting of a folding table decorated with a black apron. One imagines this “bench” is more often used for senior citizen potluck dinners or Little League registration.
However, the hearing itself was far less DIY than the setting. Police officers testified. Lawyers argued points of law and objected to the phrasing of questions. It even included a few Law & Order-like trial clichés.
Prosecutors asked Detective Candace Rushton to point out persons in the court she dealt with at the Clinical Relief dispensary. Her identifications were followed by the now familiar “let the record show the witness is pointing to defendant…” statements.
When defense attorneys were asked to stipulate marijuana confiscated by police was, well, marijuana, attorney Thomas Loeb offered a hyperbolic stipulation that his clients had possessed the “finest medicine available.” Defense supporters erupted in applause and Judge Longo quickly shouted them quiet, promising to (wait for it) clear the courtroom if necessary to maintain order.
Despite the bluster, Longo did keep everyone reasonably on point during the morning session. A good humored but imposing figure, Longo comes across in appearance and temperament like a kind of judicial Kojak. If Telly Savalas had a goatee to go with the shaved head.
The prosecution’s case is fairly straightforward. Undercover narcotics detective Rushton, using a forged medical marijuana card, purchased marijuana from the clinic based on a phony ailment. Defense lawyers took turns cross-examining Rushton. They repeatedly raised the use of the forged card and Clinical Relief’s out-in-open, almost Rotarian business operation. One defense attorney went so far as to ask Rushton to acknowledge the clinic was “different than a typical crack house.” She did.
Assuming the case goes to a jury trial, the defendants’ appearance of normalcy may be their strongest argument. They and their supporters appear, as Eric Sevareid once said of Nixon supporters, “middle class, middle age, and middle brow.” If these people are involved in an illicit organized crime (as prosecutors contend) then this is the first organized crime syndicate outfitted in business casual.
Medical marijuana users like Robert Redden, 60, of Ferndale are hardly the stuff of “Reefer Madness” hygiene films. The former machinist is on disability and walks with a cane and noticeable limp. Marijuana, he says, allowed him to manage his pain with fewer opiate-based medications. “Opiates will kill you, cannabis won’t,” Redden said.
While, Redden is not on trial in this case, he is dealing with his own legal issues and says police seized his house because of a medical marijuana-related charge. He attended today’s hearing to support the Clinical Relief defendants. Redden adds efforts in the media and by Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard to conflate medical marijuana with universal decriminalization are inaccurate and disingenuous.
But that’s not say the prosecution doesn’t have at least a prima fascia case of something. Detective Rushton testified that, on her initial visit to the dispensary, an employee said she was giving the undercover cop “a little extra” because she liked her. Rushton also said she was told she could receive a free gram of marijuana if she referred a friend to the clinic. That kind of customer friendly attitude works in a butcher shop but probably isn’t best practice for a pharmaceutical clinic. Obviously, the defense hasn’t yet had an opportunity to present evidence contesting that testimony but there it is.
What the first half of the first day’s preliminary hearing testimony did establish is this case will likely govern how Michigan’s medical marijuana law will be enforced.
At it’s best, it provides an opportunity to explore big questions about individual rights and what constitutes medicine. It is after all reasonable to ask why Rite-Aid or CVS can get away with selling obviously buncombe homeopathic “medicines” while medical marijuana (whatever its actual medical benefits) has a real pharmacological effect and is, at best, relegated to a medical ghetto.
At it’s worst, this case will at least make for great theater. Like the O.J. case or the Scopes evolution trial. Don’t knock it. Scopes was a completely manufactured fight designed to lure tourists to Dayton, TN. If Governor-elect Rick Snyder does eliminate film tax credits (as his opponents claimed) maybe test case trials can be the state’s next great economic development tool.
Neil Rockind, P.C. is leading the way in Michigan Medical Marijuana Defense. If you or a loved one is faced with a violation of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, or an investigation by any policing agency regarding such a violation, please contact Neil Rockind, P.C. at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office directly at 248-208-3800 to schedule a free consultation!