|He obeyed the rules, and they killed him anyway: Sal Agro, RIP.
Last June, with at least eight applications pending to open facilities like Clinical Relief, the Ferndale City Council imposed a temporary moratorium on dispensing medical marijuana while it explored new ways to harass the facilities through zoning restrictions. This prompted an objection from Mayor Craig Covey, who pointed out that the medical marijuana clinics would already be covered by existing ordinances. Nor were they likely to be profitable, given the detailed and often self-contradictory regulations inflicted on them under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA), which voters approved by referendum in 2008.
On August 25, the Ferndale City Council lifted the moratorium. On the very next day, the local counter-narcotics Gestapo staged a paramilitary raid against several locations in Oakland County, arresting 15 people, confiscating cash and crops, illegally seizing medical records, and terrorizing unarmed, helpless people who suffer from cancer and other painful afflictions. Most importantly, of course, the raiders got a potent fix of their preferred narcotic — the depraved thrill that comes from making powerless people submit to their whims.
A similar home invasion robbery was carried out at the Lake Orion home of Agro’s daughter-in-law. “She’s approximately five-foot, weighs about eighty-nine pounds, and the masked officers put a shotgun in her face and told her to freeze,” a wearily disgusted Agro recalled to a local reporter.
After learning about the raid, Agro went back to his house, which was swarming with armed tax-feeders.
“I asked what was going on, and they said, `Your house is being searched,'” Agro related. “I said, `Do you have a search warrant?’ They said, `Yes.’ I said, `Can I see it?’ They said, `When we get ready to show it to you.'” Despite the fact that the invaders had a note from a judge supposedly authorizing them to trash Agro’s home, the raid was, as the victim pointed out, an act of “illegal search and seizure,” since the money and property that were stolen had nothing to do with a criminal act.
The official sadism continued after the case was split into two groups of defendants. Judge Richard Kuhn of Michigan’s 51st District Court in Waterford refused to waive a bond condition permitting the use of medical marijuana by defendants who had received medical authorization to do so. Astoundingly, 43rd District Judge Joe Longo, who is presiding over the case in Ferndale, permitted defendants with medical marijuana cards to continue using the palliative while out on bail. This, of course, begs the question of why those people are criminal defendants in the first place.
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard claims that the raid followed “undercover” investigations of Clinical Relief and Everyone’s Cafe. William Joseph Teichman, co-owner of Everyone’s Cafe, insists that “We check the identification of every patient we deal with, and those undercover cops had either proper ID and paperwork or forgeries so good we couldn’t tell the difference.”
|“I said `Hardhat’!”|
In a post-raid press conference, Sheriff Bouchard— grasping for a suitable soundbite — described the local medical marijuana market as “something out of a bad Cheech and Chong Movie,” without elaborating as to whether he considers“Up in Smoke” or “Nice Dreams” to be the gold standard of the stoner duo’s cinematic output.
Bouchard himself essays a pretty decent impression ofSgt. Stedenko, the bullying, authoritarian narcotics officer who was a recurring nemesis in the comedy team’s films.
Ryan Richmond, co-owner of Clinical Relief and one of the defendants in the Ferndale case, asserts that Bouchard “simply doesn’t like the [Michigan state medical marijuana] law because it’s too broad. If Bouchard has his way, we, you, have no rights even within the law.”
Bouchard’s critics are not limited to those he has arrested on marijuana-related charges.
“I personally don’t understand why the county would use such a large amount of precious law enforcement resources on something like this,” objects Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey. “This was obviously a political move by the sheriff to flex his muscles and send a message that he does not want medical marijuana clinics in Oakland County.”
Covey also criticized “the use of SWAT teams with masked and armed officers ordering sick, elderly patients to the ground…. Now it’s going to cost the taxpayers and the business owners hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees to sort through this mess.”
Bouchard’s admitted purpose in staging the raids was not to enforce the existing law, but rather to create a “test case” intended to change it, either in substance or in application. By strict definition, this was an exercise of violence against the helpless intended to bring about political change — that is, an act of official terrorism.
Although Bouchard accuses medical marijuana advocates and providers of engaging in “organized crime,” that description makes a much better fit when applied to the NET,which is a federally designated multi-agency task force. Thanks to an indulgence granted by the so-called Department of Justice, the NET has a license to steal in the name of “asset forfeiture.”
According to the Madison Heights Police Department’s 2009 Annual Report, last year the NET seized a little more than a ton of marijuana and pilfered nearly $2 million through asset forfeiture. The August 26 raids pulled down tens of thousands of dollars in cash, including money the late Sal Agro and his wife Barbara had put aside toward the purchase of a new car.
Bouchard and Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper insist that the MMMA is dangerously ambiguous because it supposedly encourages people to flout the state’s existing laws criminalizing the use and sale of marijuana for recreational purposes. They are correct in saying that the law is a masterpiece of self-contradiction, but emphatically wrong about the nature of the resulting danger: The risk of smoking weed without government permission is much less acute than that posed by power-intoxicated armed bureaucrats willing to carry out illegal paramilitary raids that target non-violent, chronically ill “offenders.”
A concurring opinion by Judge P.J. O’Connell in a recent Michigan Court of Appeals case points out that “The MMMA does not codify a right to use marijuana; it merely provides a procedure through which seriously ill individuals using marijuana for its palliative effects can be identified and protected from prosecution under state law.” It creates a narrow “affirmative defense to prosecutions under the Public Health Code, allowing an individual to use marijuana by freeing him or her from the threat of arrest and prosecution if that user meets all the requirements of the MMMA, while permitting prosecution under the Public Health Code if the individual fails to meet any of the requirements set forth under the MMMA.”
The MMMA, furthermore, does not change the status of marijuana under state law, which lists the demonstrably harmless cannabinoid as a “Schedule 1″ controlled substance” that has “no accepted medical use.” What this means, in practice, is that anyone who uses or provides medical marijuana in strict fidelity of the terms and conditions dictated by the MMMA is still presumptively a criminal suspect.
Because of the incurable self-contradictions of the MMMA, Judge O’Connell warns,conscientious people who obey its provisions and seek marijuana for palliative care could still “lose both their property and their liberty” — or even as the needless, government-inflicted death of Sal Agro demonstrates, their lives.
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