In late May, Detroit police, accompanied by federal law enforcement, raided what media described as a “massive marijuana grow operation.”
Six people were arrested and charged with felonies that could carry prison terms of up to 15 years each. The crop — more than 1,000 plants valued at multiple millions of dollars and 100 pounds of cannabis about to “go out onto the streets for distribution,” according to a police sergeant — was seized.
At the time, Detroit police credited U.S. Border Patrol with an assist. A Border Patrol agent who works in “gang intel” and was “embedded” with the Detroit Police Department conducted a “thorough investigation,” and obtained a search warrant, Detroit police Sgt. Gerry Johnson told a local television station.
In addition to the plants, police seized lights, fans, and a timed irrigation system. They even found a testing laboratory!
“This is one of the most sophisticated operations I’ve seen in a long time,” Johnson said.
There was a reason for that. The “bust” was a raid of a licensed medical marijuana cultivation facility run by Viola Brands, a cannabis company founded by former NBA star Al Harrington. Viola Brands had a state permit as well as local building permits.
On July 31, a judge dismissed all charges filed against the six people arrested at the grow “in the interest of fairness,” according to the Detroit News.
Thomas Lavigne, an attorney for the six former defendants, says that the company will try to recover the seized cannabis, but cannot be certain that Detroit police stored it in a way that hasn’t already rendered it useless.
To add insult to injury, DPD apparently forgot — or did not bother — to secure the door to the facility after the raid, allowing burglars to enter and make off with expensive equipment the police did not seize, Lavigne said.
That’s all bad, but how did this happen in the first place? How did Detroit police manage to “investigate” and “raid” a licensed medical-marijuana operation without figuring out —or bothering to notice — that it was legitimate?
According to Lavigne, Detroit’s building inspection department is owed at least some of the blame. When police called to see if the operation was legitimate — the “investigation” referred to above — Detroit building inspectors gave the wrong answer and said that there shouldn’t have been a grow there. Hence the bust — though in any other building-code violation circumstance not involving marijuana, it’s hard to imagine enforcement taking the form of a raid.
In court, prosecutors tried to argue that Viola Brands was licensed only to “sell” at the facility, and not to grow. And “that’s absurd,” said defense attorney Michael Komorn in an interview with the Detroit News. “It’s a semantic issue because I would say everyone would understand that if they’ve been given permission to sell it, of course a medical marijuana caregivers center includes growing and cultivating marijuana.”
For their part, Detroit building inspectors are digging in their heels, insisting that the grow at Viola Brands was illegal.
That question — as well as the question of who might be liable to damages done to Viola Brands during the “raid” — now also appears headed to a courtroom.
By then, Michigan may have legalized recreational marijuana. Voters will decide on a ballot measure that would allow adults 21 and over to possess cannabis this fall.
If it passes, whether police will choose to acknowledge it apparently remains to be seen.
TELL US, do you think this case demonstrates an abuse of police power?