Letter of the law

Oakland County a frontline in the battle against medical marijuana

May 4, 2011 at 12:00 am

Oakland County continues to be one of the toughest battlefronts around medical marijuana in the state. There seem to be more high-profile cases around the issue there because County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper and County Sheriff Mike Bouchard have decided to take on medical marijuana in a very high-profile manner. But maybe they're just taking cues from the head guy. Last week, during a Michigan Town Hall Meeting in Troy, sponsored by the Oakland Press and cablecast on CMNtv, County Executive L. Brooks Patterson appeared via video saying, "That medical marijuana law is the worst piece of legislation I've ever seen."

That doesn't sound like someone who wants to make things any easier on medical marijuana patients than he has to — which brings us to the case of Barb Agro.

Agro is a 70-year-old medical marijuana patient and caregiver with debilitating arthritis and diabetes. She worked as a 911 operator for the city of Lake Orion for 38 years. She also faces charges and possible jail time for growing marijuana — but the words medical marijuana, medicine, patient and caregiver cannot be used in her defense. Why? Here are Agro's own words from an article she wrote for the Midwest Cultivator, an Ann Arbor-based medical marijuana publication:

In June of 2010, after receiving our recommendations from a physician, we began to grow 20 medical marijuana plants in the basement of our home. It is important to note that neither my husband nor I actually smoked marijuana; rather we chose to consume it as medibles, as we both found it had longer pain-relieving results.

On Aug. 25, 2010, our home, along with multiple others, including both of my sons' homes, also medical marijuana patients, was raided by masked gun-wielding officers from Oakland County Michigan's Narcotic Enforcement Task Force. In this raid our home was torn into pieces. Mattresses ripped apart, clothing, cabinets emptied, plants ripped from their pots and dirt thrown across rooms and even into our bed. Approximately $11,270 dollars was taken from our home, money that had been saved and withdrawn to purchase a vehicle. My two sons' homes were raided at the same time ...

A neighbor of my son was brave enough to leave the scene and drive to my home where he informed my husband of the raid. In his frenzied haste, my husband grabbed his car keys, leaving his wallet and our home unlocked and unsecured. After arriving to my son's residence and checking on his daughter-in-law and grandchildren to ensure they were protected he returned back home to find his house raided by the same narcotic enforcement detail.

Because the door to their home was unlocked when police arrived, prosecutors say that Barb Agro was not in compliance with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which requires that all growing facilities be inside a "locked enclosed space." Sal, her husband of 45 years, doesn't have to worry about it. He died from a heart attack at age 67 about a week after the raids.

"Our belief is that it was due to the stress from watching his wife and kids being wrongly prosecuted by an overzealous prosecutor and sheriff," wrote Agro.

Police don't seem inclined to cut her any slack. The Agros also worked at the Clinical Relief medical marijuana facility in Ferndale that was busted earlier the same day her home was raided. That was probably what led to the raids that night. Their son Nick Agro, of Lake Orion, is a co-owner of Clinical Relief. In all 16 people were charged from the day's raids including those associated with Herbal Remedies and Everybody's Cafe in Waterford Township.

"She worked the front desk [at Clinical Relief] to make sure nobody nefarious got through, to make sure they were properly credentialed," says her son Nick Agro.

Nick has his own problems. He says that police didn't find anything at his home the night of the raid and that he never personally sold anything at Clinical Relief.

"I've been charged with conspiracy to manufacture an analog substance, brownies made with chemical THC," says Nick. "They're saying that marijuana butter used to make marijuana brownies is in a category like crack cocaine. There was nothing at my house so they're trying to tie me to Clinical Relief because I'm a chef."

Agro is a partner in a Denver, Colo., catering company, although he had relocated back to Michigan before last August's raids. An analog drug, also known as a designer drug, is one that is made to get around existing drug laws yet create effects similar to illegal drugs. Agro says he expects his charges to be dropped, possibly as early as this week.

The charges against Barb stemming from the raid at her home are moving through the court faster than the charges related to Clinical Relief. Since she is forbidden any mention of medical marijuana in her defense, activists have taken the tactic of flooding court entrances with people wearing clothing such as T-shirts with medical marijuana slogans on them in order to get the message across. They tell people entering the building the same thing. They did this on April 27, at the Oakland County Municipal Court in Pontiac, for Barb's hearing. The judge then postponed the hearing until May 9. There is no indication that the presence of activists had anything to do with the postponement, but they intend to keep it up in support of Agro and others.

After Agro's hearing was postponed, activists went to another courtroom where attorney Matt Abel was defending in another medical marijuana case. The judge made the activists remove their T-shirts and move to another area in the courtroom during a break in the trial.

"We have three or four other cases in Oakland County where judges have ruled that we can't use a medical marijuana defense," says Abel. "They all need to be corrected, and they're wasting a lot of taxpayer money in the meantime."

That's where things stand right now. If you are a medical marijuana patient in Michigan right now (especially in Oakland County) take pains to stay in compliance with the law, because if you are not it may disqualify a medical marijuana defense. It seems that law enforcement is looking to charge patients and caregivers for any small deviation from the law — one too many plants, a gram over the legal amount.

Barb Agro has run into the tactic with terrifying results.

"I don't know how they're able to circumnavigate the law. ... They're scaring people out of the medical marijuana program with the way they're prosecuting these cases. People are intimidated across the state. Oakland County is the battleground. ... There's no defense these patients can put up. Anything alluding to medical marijuana is being suppressed by prosecutors," Agro says, adding that his mother isn't doing well. "I'll be honest with you. She lost her partner, my father. She's broken mentally and physically. These prosecutors don't care what they're doing."

I think they know exactly what they're doing.