On August 25, 2010, Oakland County Sheriffs raided the Clinical Relief medial marijuana dispensary in Ferndale, Michigan, where 70-year old Barbara Agro worked. Then, they went and raided her home.
Barbara, now 75, and five other defendants are still fighting felony drug charges in court more than five years later.
Almost one year after the Ferndale raid, three locations in the Blue Water Compassion Centers chain were simultaneously raided in three different counties. Home raids followed. Co-owners Jim and Deb Amsdill are still in court, four years later, with trial dates set well into 2016.
Where is the value in pursuing these criminal prosecutions so long after the raids? Logic is hard to find, said one attorney who is involved in both cases.
"They are not fixing the ills of society by prosecuting medical marijuana cases," said Grosse Pointe attorney Paul Tylenda. "Especially not the old ones."
Barbara is not about to quit.
"We were down for the fight five years ago and we're down for the fight today."
The Big Picture
The Clinical Relief case already made news when their legal proceedings grew so large the court was temporarily adjourned from the Courthouse to a nearby civic center. Nine defendants were brought into the makeshift Court, each with an attorney and family, and tiny Ferndale's judicial arena is not very large. Organizers brought buses full of supporters to the public hearing. A rally was held on the grounds where the proceeding was being held.
That could happen all over again, this time in St. Clair County in the Blue Water case. With 2,000 people potentially being under subpoena to arrive, the courthouse on McMorran Blvd. may not hold them all.
"This could be the largest marijuana trial in Michigan," said Jim Amsdill.
Officers seized approx. 2,000 patient files when they raided the three Blue Water establishments. The prosecution could use that list to challenge if the patients were using medical marijuana they received from the Centers in the proper way and within legal requirements.
That's a lot of people.
Attorney Tylenda says that, due to recent Supreme Court rulings, "We may have the burden of proving the marijuana use of these patients is in accordance with the Medical Marihuana Act," he explained. "Any violation would have to be defended individually."
When the number 2,000 was announced in Court, the news took the prosecution by surprise. "It did not look like he was happy," Jim Amsdill said.
Avoiding Imperial Entanglements
The Clinical Relief case has seen so many twists- including the law enforcers becoming the law breakers.
Oakland County Sheriff department undercover officers have a hard time keeping their jobs. At least, the ones involved in dispensary raids do. One of the interviewees pointed out that Candace Rushton, aka Candace LaForest, involved in the Clinical Relief and Big Daddy's raids, was bounced from the force after being so drunk while driving her car ended up on the median. She was charged under the state's Super Drunk law and lost her job.
Other key detectives named Meyers and Ferguson have been accused/convicted/implicated in numerous misdeeds, including tax evasion, improper vehicle search, lying to obtain a search warrant, etc. etc. Needless to say, none of these three seem available to testify against the 75-year old Agro, nor would they have credibility in the court if they did.
"(Oakland County prosecutor) Beth Hand was rebuked by the Court of Appeals for her conduct in my case," Barbara Agro is quick to point out. "It's been a mess... it's just amazing, the amount of taxpayer's dollars going into this," she said.
It's been hard on the defendants involved in these lengthy court affairs. That weight becomes more insulting as more time passes since the police actions against them.
"This is past criminal punishment and is now cruel and unusual punishment by the government," Amsdill flatly stated. "They do it to break you down."
"It's constantly on your mind. It's nerve wracking."
Both the Amsdill and Agro families have lost people while in the process of fighting the charges. Barbara's husband Sal passed away less than two weeks after the raid, and the Amsdills lost a son earlier this year.
"September second," Barbara said, of her late husband's passing. "Why are they still doing this?"
Tylenda says it's all part of the process, as wrong as it is. "Prosecutors are never going to say, hey, this case stinks. They don't just drop cases. They let the process work itself out... It is a waste."
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Both cases may have a conclusions which would not involve a trial.
"There seems to be a loss of interest" on the part of prosecutors to drive these cases forward, Tylenda said. "When this all began there was a feeling that cases like these were going to mean more than they have."
With the Blue Water case, it's easy to see why the push to prosecute continues. "The Attorney General's office is running the show," Jim reported. "He's in charge in the courtroom."
In the Clinical Relief case there has been a break. "For the first time in five years Oakland County prosecutors have offered plea deals to these six defendants," Tylenda happily reported.
The plea deals were offered to the six defendants on August 25, 2015. Barbara Agro found the timing offensive. "Playing on our emotions," she said, calling the plea bargain offers a "last-ditch effort offered on the 5-year anniversary date."
Despite the persecution being more obligatory than energetic, the process still has to work itself out. Tylenda says it's just the way the system is. "Prosecutors do have to stick by their guns."
"And we have a good case in front of a good judge," Tylenda added, referring to the Clinical Relief case and Judge Dan O'Brien in Oakland County.
In St. Clair County, "No offers for us yet," Jim Amsdil reported. "But we are patient people."