Is This “High Level” Crime?


Last week, Michigan moved into the spotlight in the War on Drugs when the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) does not permit patients to sell marijuana to each other, and that marijuana dispensaries may be shut down as a “public nuisance.” Meanwhile, Detroit police raided a professional marijuana growing operation on the city’s east side.

Following raids on a pair of dispensaries in Ann Arbor on the day after the court’s decision, most of the state’s estimated 400 to 500 dispensaries are reported to have closed their doors to Michigan’s 100,000 medical marijuana patients for fear of arrest and confiscation of their supplies.

The MMMA opened the door for medical marijuana in Michigan, but it left many important issues on the table in order to gain the support of the 62 percent of Michigan voters who approved the new law. The act allows patients to register with the state and grow 12 plants for themselves, or choose a personal caregiver to provide for them. Each caregiver may tend to five patients by growing 12 plants for each plus 12 for herself for a total of 72 plants per caregiver.

In a democratic electoral system, 62 percent  is regarded as somewhat of a landslide — nearly two-thirds of all voters — and one would think that astute politicians would heed the wishes of this sizable majority and implement its political will as fully and expeditiously as possible.

But when you’re dealing with the Tough Nerd Mob and characters like Attorney General Bill Schuette, as Larry Gabriel reported in last week’s Higher Ground, their extreme right-wing agenda remains first and foremost. Despite their defeat by the voters in open election, the anti-marijuana forces continue to demonize smokers — even certified patients — and their suppliers, and they are making every effort to stymie and counteract the positive effects of the citizens’ initiative.

The intent of the legal initiative written and passed by Michigan voters in 2008 was clear: We wanted people whose doctors suggested that they could be helped by marijuana to be able to get some — not just as they were about to die, but also that they might live better. But, as Larry Gabriel put it so eloquently, “The AG would define the law so narrowly you’d need a foot in the grave to qualify.”

The popular choice, of course, is the one that has been established by the marketplace — the dispensary model, where card-carrying patients have been going to purchase the medicine they need. Responding to the sheer volume of initial patient registrations, in a very short time the medical marijuana community has established hundreds of new Michigan businesses and generated yet untold millions in tax dollars for the state coffers in the process.

The bottom line is that marijuana growing and selling is a business, meant simply to serve the needs of patients and smokers who have no other way of obtaining what they need. In essence, busting dispensaries is like raiding pharmacies and drugstores, and shutting down a weed-growing operation is like raiding a warehouse full of carrots or turnips with a heavily armed force and a battering ram to seize the produce and the refrigeration units.

Detroit has been an ideal urban setting for growing marijuana for three or four decades. Occasionally the narcotics police are tipped off to a grow operation in an abandoned factory or warehouse — whose numbers are legion, as we know so well from looking around us — but the rest of the time the weed grows and grows and grows, supplying the myriad recreational users of marijuana in the vicinity and providing quality, locally grown produce to the medical marijuana community as well.

In a sane and sensible social order, these urban farming initiatives would be praised and studied for clues as to how they might be replicated on a wider scale to produce as much pot as the market will bear and provide an ever-growing number of jobs for our vastly unemployed citizenry, with the concommitant rise in personal income and municipal tax revenues our city so sorely needs.

But as the War on Drugs continues to rage unchecked, effective urban grow operations are regarded by the authorities as manifestations of “high-level crime” and marked for destruction by the forces of law and order, who made weed criminal in the first place only by erroneous definition — initially of marijuana as a “narcotic,” later as a “controlled substance,” and still, through some twisted form of Crusader-style logic, framed as a criminal substance for recreational smokers.

The Detroit police last week identified the target of their raid as an “$18 million marijuana growing operation” on three floors of a broken-down warehouse at Chene and Mack, including “high-tech pot-growing equipment worth $2 million to $3 million.”

Three people were arrested and a thousand marijuana plants were removed from the building (updated the next day to “12,000 plants with a street value of $15 million”), along with the astounding figure of $1,200 in cash, plus “four cars, two trucks, a motor home, a boat and a handgun,” according to DPD spokesperson Sgt. Eren Stephens.

How they arrive at these astronomical figures is a matter of some speculation. Regardless, it didn’t stop city government officials from puffing it up big-time. “This is an example of the kind of results we can have when we … go after high-level crime,” Bing spokesman Dan Lijana said.

And The Detroit News hastened to draw the mandatory link between marijuana growing and serious criminality by adding, “The mayor urged residents to join local, state and federal authorities in battling a wave of violent crime citywide.”

This particular marijuana grow operation — and I’m working from the published report — couldn’t have had much of a criminal impact on the severely run-down, nearly abandoned urban neighborhood surrounding it.

“Neighbors said they were shocked to learn about the bust,” the News reported, “adding they believed the building had been unoccupied for years. … ‘I didn’t know they were doing all this,’ said one bystander.”

An employee at the barber salon next door agreed: “They had it locked up tight. There was very little traffic. You would just see them early in the morning or late at night.”

That’s because the only violent crime associated with marijuana growing is limited to the brutal actions of the raiders themselves or the attacks by non-uniformed thugs trying to rip off a growing business — not the growers, who are simply supplying the needs of the smokers and trying to make a few dollars in the process, like any other supplier of consumer goods and services in our battered business economy.

And the smokers are not at war with anybody.

The alleged 12,000 plants seized at Chene and  Mack is a lot of pot — but does it approach the magnitude of “high-level crime”?

If these plants had been grown by a collective of licensed care-givers under Michigan law to provide medicine for nearly a thousand patients, would that make them a “criminal cartel” or rather a highly efficient source of effective medicine for people who need it?

Get right on weed! Let it grow!

John Sinclair, founder of the White Panthers, is a poet. His latest book is It’s All Good.


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