What if I told you that a business that seems to be legal and a cure to the economic crisis in the state of Michigan was growing more vulnerable by the day? While that may seem like a stretch to many that are reading this, the first meeting of Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Licensing Board in June of this year left far more questions than answers and in all communications since the issue of medical cannabis has grown even murkier. We are left with the thought that the issue of medical cannabis can be the savior for the consistent Michigan economic crisis or it could lead to an array of criminal prosecutions. To address some of these answers, we turned to leaders in the legal community to provide insight. What they had to say was insightful but also should put cannabis dispensaries on alert.
We started the research by speaking to Scott Grabel and Grabel and Associates. With offices in Lansing, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, Michigan, Grabel has evolved into the leader of criminal defense in the state of Michigan. Grabel stated, “When Governor Rick Snyder named Rick Johnson as the Chairman of the Cannabis Board he sent a clear message that the state was going to have a conservative spin on the topic. In addition to Johnson, Board Member Donald Bailey has stated clearly that every dispensary operating right now is in violation of the “Michigan Medical Marihuana Act” and with that comment being placed on the public record, our state will be faced with two critical issues: The first being that they can leave business as usual and not threaten prosecutions. The other option has far greater consequences to one’s freedom but can also equate to money for the state. If Michigan starts a sweep of criminal prosecution there could be many fines levied and that is a direction the state could go. While this is not a pleasant thought, it is a possibility that we need to face head on and with intelligence. If we prepare for that possibility we can preserve freedom, if we are negligent, a lot of good people can face a multitude of ugly consequences.”
Matthew McManus, a partner at Ann Arbor Legal, in Ann Arbor, Michigan weighed in. McManus stated, “It is amazing how many lawyers are making money by providing bad advice. It is almost as if many litigators are overlooking the preemption issue. The 10th Amendment is not a guarantee to be a safeguard in this situation. This is the dawning of a new age in Michigan but the only ones’ that can reap the benefits are those that are a step ahead of the game. To not prepare or have an attorney provide you lip service is not going to be advantageous to anybody. If you have been in violation, the time to mitigate intelligently is the move as opposed to posting about cannabis on Instagram and Facebook. The lack of intelligence displayed by some of those in our field is shocking. This board is not one that is going to display a great deal of forgiveness for a lack of respect. As a group, we need to prepare and do better.”
Ravi Gurumurthy of Michigan Legal North weighed in. Gurumurthy stated, “The state is going to generate a lot of money from the applications of these licenses and December (when license applications go into full effect) will equate to an economic windfall for the state but there is a lack of understanding as to whom the applications are making their appeal too. The Rick Johnson’s and Donald Bailey’s of the world are looking for an image just as much if not more than substance. Knowledge of the cannabis industry is not going to win the day. Having a strong character and being a respected member of the community will prevail.”
The reality that the cannabis industry is facing is that those that have been in violation need to engage competent counsel before the issue becomes ripe on the criminal prosecutorial level. There is no question that cannabis in 2017 is what “Prohibition” was in 1933. Like “Prohibition”, there could be many casualties along the way. The position of the criminal defense attorney is going to have to take on a new standard as the concept of “Mistake of Law” will not be a valid defense in the state of Michigan.
William Amadeo is a partner at the law firm Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan and an Associate Attorney for Grabel and Associates. In addition to his litigation duties, Amadeo is a journalist for “The Chronicle News” and owns and operates Bat Tutoring which is a bar exam preparation company. He can be reached at Amadeo@McManuspllc.com.