Michigan counties miss medical pot enforcement grants
Detroit — Michigan sheriffs are paying for overtime and buying vests, guns, Tasers and vehicles with a little-known pot of state money that was set aside for medical marijuana enforcement.
They’re also leaving a lot of cash on the table, as only 18 of 83 counties this year applied for a slice of the $3 million.
“It’s mind-blowing to think they had this money out there and we had no clue about it,” said Sgt. James Every of the Ingham County sheriff’s office, which was eligible for $114,000 but didn’t apply.
Kent County, which is home to Grand Rapids, was eligible for $121,000 but also was unaware, Undersheriff Michelle Young said.
“We could absolutely use it for compliance and enforcement,” she said.
Michigan voters in 2008 approved the use of marijuana to treat certain illnesses. Nearly 225,000 people have state-issued cards, but the law has confused many and has led to significant legal disputes, including over how to obtain and store the drug. Large illegal growing operations have been busted around the state.
Since 2015, lawmakers have set aside money for sheriffs for medical marijuana enforcement and education. It’s administered by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Every county was eligible this year for a portion of the $3 million, based on the number of new cards or renewals in that county.
Seventeen counties spent $823,000 in 2016, according to a state report. The largest, Wayne and Oakland, spent a combined 67 percent of that figure.
Oakland spent $282,661, much of it on training and investigation overtime. The sheriff’s office bought a $31,000 van, a $30,000 pickup truck and a $6,800 cargo trailer.
“We didn’t have equipment,” Sheriff Mike Bouchard said. “We’d come across huge illegal grow operations — hundreds and hundreds of plants — and we’d have to rent trucks or trailers. … The grant helps alleviate some of the costs necessary to do these activities, but it’s just a sliver.”
Macomb County, also in the Detroit area, has spent about $100,000 over two years, much of it related to investigations and training. The sheriff’s office also bought laptops, vehicles and raid vests.
“I want the guys as protected as they can be,” Detective Sgt. Gary Wiegand said of vests.
Wayne County said it spent $171,618 on wages for dozens of officers conducting surveillance from January through September on 32 marijuana dispensaries in Detroit. More than 600 vehicles were stopped.
St. Clair County spent nearly all of the money it requested, $36,526 out of $44,265, according to the LARA report. It spent $17,488 in wages — including $3,104 on overtime for seven employees — to enforce the state act and $19,037 for equipment, including $15,000 for a pickup truck used to haul a marijuana trailer and in other investigations, $2,027 for suits, hoods and gloves and $2,009 for air cartridges, Sgt. Matt Stringer of the St. Clair County Drug Task Force reported.
The grants were used in smaller counties, too. Sanilac spent $2,850 on five semi-automatic weapons. Antrim spent $479 on night vision binoculars. Cheboygan bought Tasers.
Young believes the grants haven’t been promoted enough. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs declined to be interviewed.
“We have not been surprised by the participation rate as this was and still is a new program,” spokesman Michael Loepp said.
The deadline to apply for the next round of funding is Jan. 1.
Wiegand said Macomb County bought a trailer to haul and store illegal marijuana plants.
“We took more than 100 plants out of a person’s house,” he said. “It’s hard to put all that in the property room.”