Sheriff: Medical marijuana bills may aid criminals

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard is warning state lawmakers that a sweeping overhaul of Michigan’s medical marijuana law awaiting their final approval could lead to convicted drug dealers and murderers running pot shops.

Bouchard, a longtime opponent of the state’s medical cannabis law, has focused his criticism on language in a five-bill package that would prohibit felons with drug convictions from operating a licensed marijuana dispensary within a decade of their conviction of incarceration.

“If some guy who was a heroin dealer and killed his competitor and got released from prison, 10 years later he’s eligible to run a cash drug business, legally,” Bouchard said. “Obviously that’s fraught with peril.”

The legislation also would disqualify anyone with a misdemeanor conviction involving controlled substances, theft, dishonesty or fraud from obtaining a medical marijuana dispensary license until five years after the conviction.

“It doesn’t make sense to have conviction felons, including convicted murders, involved in a cash drug business,” Bouchard said.

Bouchard, a Republican and former state senator, said the Michigan House of Representatives should add restrictions barring drug felons from getting dispensary licenses or Gov. Rick Snyder should veto the package of bills, which the Michigan Senate approved Thursday.

Birmingham criminal defense attorney Bruce Leach, who specializes in defending medical marijuana patients, said Bouchard is engaging in “reefer madness fearmongering.”

“Law enforcement has a bias and self-interest in keeping marijuana illegal because they profit from arresting people and seizing their property through civil forfeiture proceedings,” Leach said.

The medical marijuana bills would make long-sought changes to the 2008 voter-approved law by creating a regulatory system and taxation of medical marijuana sold in licensed dispensaries.

The current law has been mired in conflicting legal interpretations for the past eight years, leading to a plethora of stores in cities like Detroit and Lansing selling cannabis to patients with state-issued medical marijuana cards.

State Sen. Rick Jones, chairman of the judiciary committee, defended the bills and said Bouchard’s criticism is “too little, too late” after he spent months crafting compromise legislation that law enforcement and prosecutors could live with.

“For Sheriff Bouchard to come at this late date and now claim he has a problem, I think is poor judgment,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “He had plenty of opportunity to have input.”

Jones, a former Eaton County sheriff, said someone convicted of a drug offense 10 or more years ago should not be barred from working in a budding new industry.

“If somebody 10 years ago got picked up for (drug) possession, I certainly don’t think that should, 10 years later, preclude them from having employment,” he said.

The legislation would create a new Medical Marijuana Licensing Board that would be empowered to reject applicants if there were objections to their criminal background, Jones said.

“I don’t think that very many violent people are going to apply for a license,” he said.

Bouchard, a former state Senate majority floor leader, said the Legislature should treat medical marijuana dispensary licenses the same as other regulated industries that prohibit certain felons from employment.

“You can’t be a stock broker if you’ve got a felony conviction,” the sheriff said. “You would expect they would uphold the same standards they have for banking, gambling, for alcohol and for cigarettes.”

The package of bills needs a concurrence vote by the state House to go to Snyder’s desk for the governor’s consideration. The Republican governor has not said whether he would sign the bills.

But Lt. Gov. Brian Calley indicated Friday the Snyder administration is interested in having a regulatory system that ensures medical marijuana cultivated and sold to terminally ill patients is subject to inspections like fresh produce in supermarkets.

“That’s really the main crux behind it, that’s the thing that I think this bill advances,” Calley said in an interview on the Lansing radio station 1320 AM WILS.

The bills also would create a legal framework for communities to regulate where medical marijuana dispensaries are located, he said.

Calley urged sheriffs and law enforcement officials to “reach out” to House members with any “additional concerns or changes that need to be made” to the bills.

“Until it passes through the Legislature, it can still be modified,” Calley said. “So keep working on it.”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood