OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. – The owner of an Oakland County medical marijuana dispensary said he’s been unfairly targeted by police in the form of raids and civil forfeitures.
Meanwhile, police said they’re just enforcing the law.
The case sits at the forefront of the fight to legalize marijuana in Michigan.
Investigators close to the case said Donald Barnes is a marijuana dealer hiding behind medical marijuana laws, but Barnes said the dispensary raided by police is a nonprofit that he has no ownership in. The legal battle has gone on for almost three years, and Barnes’ money and property is still tied up in a forfeiture battle.
Barnes insists he is the victim of overzealous police.
“It was two days before Christmas, and we started Christmas shopping already,” Barnes said. “They seized the Christmas gifts.”
He claims officials wrongfully raided his business and seized pot, property and bank accounts.
“They seized personal assets, not just my business bank accounts, but they also seized stuff from my home and my personal properties,” Barnes said.
Barnes was eventually given criminal charges.
“They arrested me and told me I was being charged with selling marijuana because I owned a dispensary,” Barnes said.
But police told a different story. They stand behind the raids, forfeiture and criminal charges, saying it wasn’t a medical marijuana operation for the sick but a large-scale pot-for-profit operation.
The two sides ended up in the courtroom, where Barnes scored a victory.
“In this case, the Oakland County Circuit Court, I think, called the Sheriff’s Department on their tactics and pointed out that they clearly had no justification to do what they did to Mr. Barnes or his business,” attorney David Moffitt said.
Moffitt said when the judge invalidated the search by police and dismissed the criminal charges against Barnes, it sent a strong message and should convince police to give Barnes his money and property back.
“You know, if you go around and you frighten people in this fashion and take their assets and tell them (that) if they just let that go then they won’t be prosecuted,” Moffitt said. “If it weren’t being done by people with badges, it would be called extortion.”
Prosecutors and police said the judge’s ruling was wrong. They’re appealing, so the controversy is far from over.
“I mean, this is Oakland County, one of the richest counties in the country,” Barnes said. “There’s not too many people that are going to be able to push them around. They push people around.”
A judge has ruled that $10,000 seized from Barnes be returned to him. A hearing to resolve the rest of the forfeited property was adjourned Wednesday and moved to August.
In some states, property cannot be forfeited until a person is convicted, but in Michigan, the property is taken and returned if a person is found not guilty.
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