Confusing State Marijuana Laws Lead to Unjust Raids

In July of 2014, the St. Clair County Drug Task Force (DTF) raided the home and business of Annette and Dale Shattuck, a couple who owned a medical marijuana dispensary in Kimball, Michigan.

The Shattucks were at their dispensary, DNA Wellness Center, when DTF agents arrested them, the Washington Post reported. Meanwhile, their four young children were playing at home under the supervision of their grandmother.

"DTF busted in the door that morning, a no-knock, battering ram entry," reads a briefing filed by the Shattuck's attorney. "During the dynamic entry, armed DTF officers wearing ski masks separated the children from their grandmother at gunpoint, shouting at her to get the dog under control or they would shoot it. The deputies kept the children lined up on the couch at gunpoint, refusing even to remove their masks to help calm the kids, including two three-year-old toddlers."

A sheriff for the task force told the Washington Post that these claims were a "misrepresentation," saying there was "no way in hell" officers would point their weapons at children. He did, however, acknowledge that it's standard practice for officers to draw their weapons in such raids.

Perhaps no story illustrates the confusion surrounding medical marijuana's legal status better than that of the Shattucks—a couple who went extra lengths to ensure their compliance with state laws.

The Shattucks obtained the necessary permits and licenses from their local planning commission. The landlord of the building where the dispensary was housed gave his permission in the lease. Bill Orr, the chairman of the commission, thanked the Shattucks for "following the ordinance and taking the necessary steps to open the business within Kimball Township in the manner required," according to court documents.

Annette, a registered caregiver with the state, personally called the DTF and requested an inspection of DNA Wellness to insure that the business complied with state law. But instead of conducting an inspection, the task force decided to send confidential informants into the dispensary to make purchases, which they then used as probable cause for a raid.

Annette and Bill were charged with felony possession with intent to distribute and possession with intent to manufacture marijuana.

The Shattucks' plight is one of many that show how confusing, patchy medical marijuana laws harm businesses and upend lives. Businesses and caregivers in MMJ-legal states are subject to conflicting signals from different government entities. Even though the federal government does not allow federal funds to be used against cannabis companies operating legally under state laws, the state laws themselves are murky and open to interpretation. 

Michigan's legislature needs to enact clearer laws regulating the cannabis industry—the current law does not address the legality of dispensaries and does not allow for marijuana to be sold from them. The ambiguous rules are not just a problem for those in the marijuana industry: "The Michigan Supreme Court has spent countless hours adjudicating a total of eight cases involving medical marijuana since the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act was passed in 2008," reports Downtown magazine.

Supreme Court justices and local governments have pressed the state's legislature to do something to clarify the laws. But attempts to do so have been stagnant: A trio of medical marijuana bills that have been approved by the House are now languishing in a Senate committee. One of them would establish a licensing system for retailers, growers and distributors.

Meanwhile, 53 percent of voters say they would approve a ballot initiative to completely legalize and tax marijuana, according to a recent poll.

While voters want the plant to be legal and regulated, lawmakers seem not to be prioritizing the issue, putting patients, caregivers and business owners at the mercy of an arbitrary system.

A judge recently threw out the charges against the Shattucks, ruling that the government can't prosecute you for a "crime" that another arm of the government approved. But unfortunately for the family, the consequences still linger.

Their 10-year-old daughter has been in counseling for more than a year to deal with the trauma as a result of the raid. The DTF has not returned all of their property, and the property that has been returned is damaged. The couple continues to struggle with the burden of legal fees and finding work—though charges have been dropped.

In the absence of federal progress on marijuana policy, states with any sort of legal cannabis, have a duty to responsibly regulate the industry. Whether they have passed useless CBD legislation or have voter referendums, too many states are sitting idly by as local jurisdictions and individuals try to navigate the haphazard laws, sometimes—as in the case of the Shattuck family—with ruinous results.

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