Generally speaking, marijuana industry participants sign up for a tradeoff when they begin to grow legal weed. In exchange for carefully maintained records, permit applications, security measures, and application fees, they’re allowed to grow pot without going to jail. For most, it’s a pretty good tradeoff. So what happens when dispensary owners who think they have the legal right to sell cannabis in their state get raided by law enforcement officers? That’s exactly what began to happen in Michigan marijuana markets last year.
Because Michigan medical marijuana laws were silent on the legality of dispensaries, clear guidance for dispensary owners was lacking in the state. Over the course of 2015, Michigan State Police began to raid dispensaries across the state. In the process, they often used the tool of civil asset forfeiture, essentially seizing goods – often tens of thousands of dollars worth of goods – from legitimately licenced medical dispensaries.
The beauty of civil asset forfeiture is that it requires a much lower burden of proof than a criminal conviction. Civil asset forfeiture allows the cash-strapped police department to stuff their pockets with the goods that they seize from dispensaries. What’s more, according to the Detroit Free Press, state medical marijuana licensing fees have been flowing to police to support enforcement efforts. That means that dispensary owners are paying, through fees, for police to raid their businesses and seize their goods.
It’s important to note that these raids were conducted by state police and therefore have no bearing on threats of federal enforcement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
While it’s true that these dispensaries were operating in a gray market, it seems hard to justify the use of SWAT teams to raid the homes of families who owned licensed marijuana businesses. A new Michigan law came into effect in January, clearly setting out guidelines for medical dispensaries. And, for now, the raids have stopped. If they pop back onto our radar, you’ll hear about it at The Daily Leaf.