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Medical-Marijuana Sellers Run Risk of Raids, Group Says

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Michigan medical-marijuana patients and the entrepreneurs who supply them with the drug say they're being driven underground by police raids.

Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., held workshops around Michigan this month advising people how to avoid police attention and what they should -- or shouldn't say during a raid. The group considers the police actions in Michigan aggressive.

During a workshop at Ferndale's community center, Steph Sherer, executive director of the group, told people who operate dispensaries -- people who sell the drug to medical users -- that they should expect at some point to see shouting drug agents with pointed guns.

"Make sure no one tries to run and hide because you could get shot," Sherer said.

Oakland County authorities have created one of the toughest places nationwide for medical-marijuana users, Sherer said.

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said that during the last two years, her office has charged more than 100 medical-marijuana suspects who engaged in drug dealing.

And a spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said the state law allowing medical marijuana "has nothing about authorizing dispensaries."

Dealer or dispenser? Group advises medical pot sellers of their rights

Michiganders who have been raided and arrested for using and supplying medical marijuana say police actions have decimated their jobs, assets and health.

On May 19, retired police dispatcher Barb Agro, 70, of Lake Orion got back $8,000 of nearly $12,000 in cash seized by Oakland County narcotics agents when officers raided her home in August.

Her two sons' homes were raided the same day. Agro's husband, Sal Agro, died that week of heart failure the morning of their arraignments. All were working in Ferndale for a dispensary, a shop that sold medical marijuana with the blessing of local officials but was closed by county authorities, who say the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act does not allow dispensaries.

"There is no provision (in the law) for dispensaries," Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said. "And other state statutes prohibit the dispensing of a Schedule I substance," such as marijuana.

Agro faces criminal prosecution and possible jail time for growing and selling the drug.

Agro and 30 others who use and provide medical marijuana heard how to guard themselves against police raids this month at a Ferndale workshop. The staff from Americans for Safe Access -- a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. -- cautioned patients not to give authorities any excuses to pull over their cars, inspect their yards or check out their dispensary sites.

"I'm teaching you what your rights are, not teaching you to break the law," activist Steph Sherer told the audience inside Ferndale's Kulick Community Center. Sherer, who is executive director of the nonprofit organization, also led workshops in Ann Arbor, Flint and Muskegon.

With arrests mounting of medical marijuana users -- more than 100 people have been charged with drug violations in the past two years Oakland County alone, according to the county prosecutor's office -- workshop speakers told participants that they, their family members, employees and even pets were vulnerable to police raids.

"The door should always be locked to your home." If police knock, "Say loudly, 'I don't consent to a search,' " advised Sherer, a medical-marijuana user who founded the nonprofit nine years ago. It has held workshops in most of the 16 states that allow medical marijuana, she said.

In Michigan, there is a growing divide between law enforcement, she said, and people who say they need marijuana as medicine and that they live in fear of the police. Police and prosecutors have said many who claim a medical use for marijuana are merely drug abusers and dealers.

Breaking the law

Some Michiganders have told the Free Press that they use marijuana as medicine but have not registered with the state, which would make them clear violators of drug laws. And of the 75,000 medical marijuana users on the rolls of the Michigan Department of Community Health in Lansing, odds are that some are drug abusers and lawbreakers, said Terry Payne, 35, of Sterling Heights.

"There are bad apples in every big group," said Payne, a medical-marijuana grower and state-registered patient. And those bad apples draw unwelcome police scrutiny to legal operators, said Jamie Fricke, Michigan Community Liaison with Americans For Safe Access.

"Some people do feel that if you have a medical need, that should let you get away with some things," Fricke said. "That's why we tell people, 'You should stay strictly within the law'," Fricke said Wednesday, hours after joining about 200 patients in a protest at the state Capitol in Lansing. The group protested what they consider Michigan's heavy-handed interpretation of drug laws and harsh enforcement against medical-marijuana users and caregivers -- those registered by the state to provide the drug.

Cynthia Payne, 52, of Oak Park said she was glad she attended the Ferndale workshop. Payne said she is a registered patient who uses marijuana to treat her ulcerative colitis. Payne said she's torn between being secretive and wanting to tell others about the benefits of marijuana.

"You can't hide forever, and we're really not doing anything wrong," she said.

News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Source: freep.com
Author: Bill Laitner
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: freep.com
Website: Medical-marijuana sellers run risk of raids, group says
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