By Radley Balko
Earlier this month, police in Oakland County, Michigan raided a medical marijuana dispensary in the town of Oak Park. The deputies came in with guns drawn and bulletproof vests, with at least one wearing a mask.
They made no arrests, but they did clean the place out. The confiscated all of the dispensary's cash on hand and—in a particularly thuggish touch—also took all of the cash from the wallets and purses of employees and patients. In this update, police officials say the raid was the result of street dealers telling police they were buying marijuana from the dispensary. I suppose we'll see in time if that's true, and if it is, if the dispensary was actually aware that it was selling to dealers. But at first blush, the claim sounds like a pretty good way for street dealers to put a legitimate competitor out of business.
Under Michigan's asset forfeiture law, 80 percent of the cash the deputies seized will go directly to the Oakland County Sheriff's Department. The other 20 percent goes to the local prosecutor. Medical marijuana is legal under Michigan law but is of course still illegal under federal law. And apparently there's some debate about the legality of dispensaries. All of which means this particular dispensary will have a hard time proving it earned the seized cash legitimately. I doubt the patients and employees will get their cash back, either. The cost of challenging the seizure is likely several times more than the amount of money most people carry on their person.
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There's been some talk in the Michigan legislature about reforming the state's asset forfeiture laws, but there's been no action so far. Last February, a former prosecutor described the Michigan forfeiture law to the Detroit News this way:
"It's a money grab, pure and simple; a sneaky way of getting a penalty on something prosecutors can't prove. It's like shooting fish in a barrel."