GRAND RAPIDS, MI – State police crime labs intentionally misrepresent marijuana oil and edibles as having unknown origins, a tactic that can turn a misdemeanor possession charge into a felony and remove protections for Michigan’s medical marijuana users, a federal lawsuit claims.
Maxwell Lorincz of Spring Lake and three others from the east side of Michigan are seeking class-action status in a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Detroit against state police Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue and Inspector Scott Marier, interim director of the Forensic Science Division.
They allege the state police Forensic Division, in concert with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Association of Michigan, or PAAM, established a policy to report marijuana-based edibles and oils as, at least potentially, having an unknown origin if no visible plant material is present.
The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, could then be declared a synthetic substance.
“At least one reason for the policy change was to better establish probable cause to arrest medical marijuana patients, obtain forfeiture of their assets, charge them with crimes they did not commit, and to allow felony charges against others for what is at most a misdemeanor,” Farmington Hills attorney Michael Komorn said in the lawsuit.
State police would not comment with legal action pending, spokeswoman Shanon Banner said.
GRAND HAVEN, MI — The Ottawa County prosecutor says he is not out to overcharge Michigan Medical Marijuana Act cardholders who run afoul of state law. Prosecutor Ron Frantz offered the comments as he responded to criticism about a felony charge against a Spring Lake man who holds a medical marijuana card. Max Lorincz is charged with possession of…
The lawsuit also names Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard and his forensic sciences lab commander as defendants for also allegedly designating oils and edibles as Schedule 1 THC, without any qualification as to its origin.
Undersheriff Michael McCabe, who reviewed the lawsuit that has yet to be served, said the sheriff’s laboratory has received high marks and was recently re-accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board.
“Our testing procedures are above and beyond reproach,” he told The Grand Rapids Press and MLive.
“As far as we’re concerned, the lawsuit, in regards to Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, it’s garbage.”
He said his agency has not talked to state police or the prosecutors’ association – or the Oakland County prosecutor – about its procedures.
“We report the test results,” he said. “Charging decisions are made by the prosecutor’s office independently.”
Lorincz, a medical-marijuana patient, is joined in the lawsuit by Oakland County residents Brandon Shoebe, a licensed medical marijuana caregiver, and Cantrell Carruthers, a licensed caregiver and patient, and Livingston County resident Jason Poe, a licensed patient.
The lawsuit focuses primarily on Lorincz’s case. He was arrested last year after police found residue of oil extracted from marijuana while responding to a medical call at his northern Ottawa County home. Lorincz presented his medical-marijuana documentation, but the sample was sent to a crime lab in Grand Rapids for testing.
Max Lorincz is charged with a two-year felony.
Lorincz was charged with possession of marijuana. He insisted he had immunity. He says prosecutors threatened to charge him with a felony of possession of synthetic THC, and did just that when he refused to plead to the misdemeanor.
A Forensic Division scientist testified he could not tell if the THC sample came from a plant or was synthetic.
Prosecutors argued that the charge was appropriate because crime lab workers determined the origin of the THC sample was unknown because no plant material was present.
Ottawa County Circuit Judge Ed Post dismissed the case.
Prosecutor Ronald Frantz wrote then: “The court’s decision turned on definitions and statutory language that we believed supported the charge as written. The District Court judge found our interpretation to be correct, Circuit Judge Post disagreed and ruled otherwise. … We believe the increasing prevalence of extremely high potency marijuana-based and synthetic-based drugs is reason to update and clarify our statutes.”
Maxwell, who lost custody of his young son for a time, did not see his troubles end.
“Maxwell and the approximately 200,000 other participants in the (medical marijuana program) face the prospect of being wrongly detained, searched, and prosecuted as a result of the Forensic Division’s official reporting policy regarding marijuana,” Komorn wrote.
“Indeed, the rights of numerous other Michigan citizens are endangered by this policy of reporting false felonies.”
He said the state police crime lab’s own results of the substance in Maxwell’s case showed it to be plant-based.
Komorn said that state police documents obtained under Freedom of Information Act requests showed “a concerted action by Forensic Division, PAAM, and law enforcement to ignore the law and bend the science so as to report all marijuana oils and solids that do not contain visible plant matter as potentially Schedule 1 synthetic THC … .
“In fact, the Forensic Division actually changed its lab manual to require this result from its scientists. This change was made in an attempt to strip medical marijuana patients of their rights and immunities, charge or threaten to charge citizens with greater crimes than they might have committed, obtain plea deals, and increase proceeds from drug forfeiture.”
He said that a crime lab scientist wrote “that ‘it is highly doubtful that any of these (medical marijuana) products we are seeing have THC that was synthesized.”
Komorn said it makes no sense that anyone would try to synthesize THC given the ease of obtaining it from marijuana.
He said that Bradley Choate, a supervisor at the Lansing lab, objected to THC being labeled as potentially synthetic if plant material wasn’t found. Choate wrote in an email that such a designation “would lead a prosecutor to the synthetic portion of the law. …
“This could lead to the wrong charge of possession of synthetic THC and the ultimate wrongful conviction of an individual.
“For the laboratory to contribute to this possible miscarriage of justice would be a huge black eye for the division and the department.”
If you or someone you know is facing charges as a result of Medical Marijuana recommended to you as a medical marijuana patient under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, contact Komorn Law and ensure your rights are protected. Michael Komorn is recognized as a leading expert on the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. He is the President of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association (MMMA), a nonprofit patient advocacy group which advocates for the rights of medical marijuana patients and their caregivers.
Contact us for a free no-obligation case evaluation at 800-656-3557.