Oakland County Sheriff's Office robs dispensary at gunpoint

Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine's offices and partner businesses were raided Wednesday by the Oakland County Sheriff's Department.


Yes, I’m afraid you did read that headline correctly. Yesterday eight Oakland County Sheriff’s Deputies served a search warrant on the offices of Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine, Big Daddy’s Compassion Club and Big Daddy’s Hydro shop in Oak Park, MI. No arrests were made. However, the gun-toting cowboys did take something with them when they left: $20,000 in cash. This cash was seized from receipts, registers and even the wallets of the employees on site. Let me repeat that last one: THE COPS TOOK THE MONEY FROM EVERYONE’S WALLETS. This is a plain old-fashioned stick-up. Witnesses say that one of the officers was even wearing a mask! So what happens to this money? If no one was arrested, why do they get to take cash?

The answer of course is civil asset forfeiture. If you’ve never heard the term before, here’s a catch-up post from earlier, but basically if the government suspects your property was involved in a crime or your money came from a crime, they can seize it. The burden of proof then lies on your shoulders because property doesn’t have the same rights as a person. Nevermind that it’s ridiculous to charge property with a crime. So we end up with cases like “The United States v. 1999 Ford Taurus” and such silliness.

Now about the money. In all states it’s different depending on state laws where the money goes, but almost everywhere cops can use a federal loophole to keep most of the spoils. In our case from Michigan yesterday, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office gets to keep 80% of the assets seized and the other 20% will go to the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office. Consider it a “robbery legitimization fee.”

So basically Oakland County’s government has taken to wild west tactics to fund their law enforcement branch. Their $20,000 haul means $16,000 for the Sheriff and $4,000 for the prosecutor. Not bad for a Wednesday.

Citizens Police Review Board almost reviews Lowest Priority ordinance

Looking at the agenda for tonight’s Citizens Police Review Board meeting, I knew that this issue was not going to be addressed in any relevant way. Under “Panel Discussion Marijuana Ordinance Issues” [sic] we see the invited guests: City Prosecutor Stephen Richey, Assistant County Prosecutor Ryan Haigh, and Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton. You can imagine what their opinion boiled down to: They thought the ordinance was being enforced just fine. “We aren’t getting search warrants to pursue misdemeanor marijuana cases.” Well I have two problems with that response.

First of all, our problem with the ordinance isn’t that police shouldn’t be pursuing misdemeanor marijuana charges. It’s that they shouldn’t be going out of their way to chase down ANY marijuana case, from 12 grams to 12 pounds. The ballot language passed by 61% of voters in Columbia in 2004 read: “The limited resources of law enforcement should be directed primarily toward crimes of violence or property loss.  The enforcement of laws against marijuana shall be the lowest law enforcement priority.The current ordinance reads almost exactly the same (Sec. 16-255.2., subsection f; you’ll have to scroll way down): “The limited resources of law enforcement should be directed primarily toward crimes of violence or property loss. The enforcement of laws against marijuana shall be among the lower priorities of law enforcement.” No part of the subsection mentions misdemeanor amounts of marijuana. When the ordinance passed, 61% of Columbia voters were saying they wanted enforcement of ALL marijuana crimes to be THE LOWEST law enforcement priority. Which means no search warrants for pot, no overtime pay for SWAT officers to try to find pot, and no pot-only cases while there are still plenty of unsolved serious crimes in the area.

Second point: The simple fact remains that CPD HAS obtained search warrants and executed SWAT raids on offenders who were later charged with simple misdemeanor possession. Anyone remember the Kinloch Court incident? Misdemeanor possession. Of course, they were going for more pot than what they found, but the fact that faulty intelligence can and does happen means maybe we should rethink pursuing marijuana cases with these violent tactics.

Well, after the two prosecutors and Chief Burton had their say, Dan Viets requested that the board continue discussion on the lower priority ordinance at their next monthly meeting when more students are in town to weigh in with their opinions. This was quickly shot down, and the board moved on. The discussion of how to better enforce the lowest priority ordinance was over without even having happened.

At the end of the CPRB meetings they allow time for general public comment. I stood and expressed my disappointment that the board for not even allowing a variety of opinions to be heard. “If you think that you can get a full range of opinions by inviting two prosecutors and the Police Chief here tonight, then you have no understanding of this issue,” I told them. I urged that they take the issue up again in the future when a fair discussion might be had. After I had spoken, Chairwoman Ellen LoCurto-Martinez seemed to understand my point and realize they had not looked at the picture quite as fully. In a compromise, she moved to table time at next month’s meeting to discuss whether it is wise police policy to serve search warrants in connection with non-violent crimes.

Here’s where you all come in. The next CPRB meeting is on February 9 at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall. Come and let the Citizens Police Review Board know your opinion: Should police be serving search warrants, which are inherently violent, to investigate crimes where no violence was committed and no property was damaged or stolen? If you’re interested in speaking to the Board please drop me an email at freethedrugs@gmail.com by February 1 so I can guarantee you some time to address the board at that meeting. I hope to see many students and citizens there!

Breaking Hiatus

Hello friends. I’m sorry for such a long lull in posts; I’ve fallen out of most of my good habits over these past few months but I’m trying to get back on track now.  A lot has happened since my last post. While I was in Portland at the National NORML Conference, Canadian activist Marc Emery was sentenced to five years in U.S. Federal Prison for selling seeds across the U.S./Canada border. I encourage you to read Marc’s blog for a look inside the Federal Prison system and the discrimination he faces as a Canadian citizen in U.S. Federal Prison. In October, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 1449 into law, making adult possession of up to an ounce of cannabis a criminal infraction, punishable by a $100 ticket that requires no court appearance. Last November, California Prop 19 barely failed, but received an encouraging 46.5% of the vote, meaning that over 4.6 million Californians voted in favor of legalization! And in a surprising victory, Arizona became the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana! The measure barely squeaked by with 50.13% of voters approving Prop 203.

We made some pretty big strides in 2010, and I’m confident that as we win more victories in the next few years, public support will grow as we continue to spread the truth about cannabis and adopt policies that protect our citizens, not exploit them.