(Originally written and posted in November, 2010. Six years later, Sheriff Bouchard is still fighting the nixonian war on marijuana, despite the wishes of the residents of Oakland County. We need a new sheriff in town, still !)
After raids and mass arrests last month by Oakland County against medical marijuana facilities and homes, Sheriff Bouchard at his press conference reportedly quipped, “This is not a Cheech and Chong movie.” He was so right in that his actions were not representative of a light-hearted and fun comedy, although the raids were reminiscent of past decades. A better comparison might be the 1936 propaganda film “Reefer Madness”, with hysterical officials warning about the deadly menace of marijuana. As the dozens of court cases from these raids now wind through our county’s court systems, it is time for more rational, calm, and enlightened discussion about the issues related to marijuana in 2010.
Voters in Michigan overwhelmingly voted to decriminalize the use of marijuana for persons dealing with medical issues and who obtained recommendations from physicians. The same has happened in fourteen states across the nation. But opponents of the measure are unhappy with this turn of events, and now claim that the voters were somehow duped, which seems an arrogant stance. In a democracy, the voters get to be “the deciders.” It is not elected officials’ prerogative to decide what voters “meant” to do, but rather it’s their duty to follow their instructions. Elected officials can be disappointed with election results, but woe be to those who thwart the will of the people. It is from the voters that we get the authority that we have.
According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, more than 55,000 Michigan residents have applied for doctor-recommended medical marijuana permits. Each one has seen a physician, and sent into the state a check for $100 to process their request. And while the state cashes that check right away, there is a reported seven month wait to actually get the permit back from MDCH. Meanwhile the state has received more than five and one half million dollars under this program.
Ferndale residents voted three separate times to legalize medical marijuana. Our city council then determined areas that could be zoned for facilities where physicians and others could counsel, prescribe, and or dispense the product. For two months the sole facility in Ferndale functioned well, with no problems, no complaints, and according to our own police officials and records, there was no rise in criminal activity in the area.
Two days after the City of Ferndale voted in new zoning areas for medical marijuana, dozens of sheriff’s deputies and narcotics enforcement team officers swooped down on homes and businesses across the county, including our own little storefront in Ferndale. The raids featured masked officers in full swat team uniforms, snarling dogs, and drawn weapons. Elderly patients, nurses, and business owners alike were thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and arrested. I suspect helicopters were buzzing overhead in case someone with severe arthritis or muscular dystrophy tried to make a run for it.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the raids was the confiscation of patient’s private medical records. Evidently ignoring the national rules on HIPPA which protects patient’s privacy, our own Sheriff in Oakland County has stated that he didn’t think marijuana was a proper medication for someone with back or shoulder pain. With all due respect, I would suggest that he leave the medical diagnoses and medication prescriptions to the doctors.
Certainly the state law now governing medical pot was not written well. It is unclear and causing consternation among local and county governments. But had state leaders done their job, we would not have had the citizen-led effort to force their hands. Now some law enforcement officials are using their assets to send their own political message that they don’t approve of the new law, and they are dealing with marijuana in the only ways they know how, which is to treat it as a dangerous narcotic no different than meth or heroin.
We have serious drug problems in our region, not the least of which are the growing number of addictions to legal pain-killers such as vicodin and oxycotin. But it is doubtful that fighting this epidemic will lead to sheriff’s raids on the local CVS.
In a time of dwindling government resources, law enforcement should focus on the serious criminal activities that put residents and visitors in true danger. They should focus on crimes such as burglary, auto theft, robberies, and other violent crimes as well as fighting serious drug problems associated with heroin, meth, cocaine, and other addictive narcotics. They can then send all the political messages they like, using the same tools that we all use such as lobbying, petitions, letter-writing and protests. But spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of precious tax-payer’s resources raiding legally organized medical marijuana facilities does not seem wise or prudent. Such over-the-top raids are reefer madness.