Defense attorneys hail ruling as ‘huge victory’ for medical marijuana
PONTIAC — Medical marijuana proponents are hailing an Oakland County judge’s decision to throw out the case against a Ferndale medical marijuana dispensary as a huge victory.
Oakland County Circuit Judge Daniel O’Brien dismissed charges Wednesday against seven defendants accused of various crimes following the police raid of Clinical Relief in August 2010.
The five men and two women, who worked at or owned the dispensary on Hilton Road near Eight Mile Road, had been accused of conspiracy and manufacturing and selling controlled substances. The case became an early test of the 2008 state law passed by voters to allow the use of medical marijuana.
After listening to arguments from the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office and defense attorneys, Judge O’Brien dismissed charges against Ryan Richmond of Royal Oak, Barbara Johnson of Leonard, Ryan Fleissner of Livonia, Matthew Curtis of Lake Orion, Anthony Agro of Troy, and Barbara Agro and Nicholas Agro, both of Lake Orion.
Clinical Relief was the first dispensary to open in southeast Oakland County. The owners and operators were trying to follow the vague state law, said Thomas Loeb, a defense attorney and co-lead counsel.
“The argument that had the most traction was the rule of lenity,” Loeb said.
The rule says when a statute or ordinance has two different readings — one legal and one not — the defendant gets the benefit of a doubt.
Loeb pointed out that the raid happened when the law was clouded with confusion about how patients would get medical marijuana. It wasn’t until a year later that the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled dispensaries are illegal and only caregivers can give medication to the five patients or less who are registered to them.
“If you don’t know what it is prohibited by law, we all run the risk of breaking the law,” Loeb said.
Lawyers for the defendants had argued their clients believed they were following the rules and there was no criminal intent when they sold marijuana to undercover officers.
The police had phony patient cards indicating they were certified to use medical marijuana and at least one officer also showed a driver’s license made by the state with his alias. That officer told workers he had a bad back and expected to undergo surgery. He initialed a form telling him not to redistribute the products or drive under their influence. Then, he bought an eighth of an ounce of loose and pre-rolled medical marijuana.
If the case had gone to trial, Loeb said defense attorneys were prepared to argue that the police allegedly broke laws, too, including uttering and publishing, forgery and ID theft.
“They had no permission to do that,” Loeb said. “They did it on their own and then got a search warrant claiming Clinical Relief was selling to people without proper cards.”
Neil Rockind, another defense attorney and the other co-lead counsel, called the judge’s decision fair and courageous.
“Judge O’Brien issued this ruling even though he knew it would be unpopular with his peers and that is commendable,” Rockind said in a statement.
He called the ruling “a huge victory for medical marijuana caregivers and patients statewide.”
It might be short-lived. Defense attorneys expect the prosecutor’s office to appeal.