FERNDALE — The city’s new medical marijuana facility was shut down and all of its employees were arrested following a raid by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
On the evening of Aug. 25, the county’s Narcotics Enforcement Team raided three businesses — including Clinical Relief, located at 362 Hilton Road in Ferndale, and two others in Waterford — and 13 homes, and arrested 17 people for violating the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. The officers also seized about $30,000 in cash, hundreds of marijuana plants, large quantities of dried marijuana, marijuana brownies and candies, hash oil, thousands of patient records, packaging materials, grow lights, scales, guns, computers and more.
Two days later, nine employees of Clinical Relief — Derek Anderson, Anthony Agro, Barbara Johnson, Matthew Curtis, Nicholas Agro, Ryan Richmond, Angelina Veseli, Barbara Agro and Ryan Fleissner — were arraigned in Ferndale 43rd District Court on multiple counts of delivery and manufacture of a controlled substance. Judge Joe Longo set a $10,000 personal bond for each employee and scheduled a pre-exam conference for 1 p.m. Sept. 2.
At press time, there were arrest warrants out for four additional people, who were expected to be arraigned soon.
According to Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, NET officers began investigating the three businesses after receiving complaints from local residents.
“We put every one of these locations on notice to come into compliance with the law, but they continued breaking it anyway,” he said. “There have also been a lot of ancillary problems — armed robberies, break-ins, home invasions — happening as a result of these businesses.”
Bouchard said that at Clinical Relief, undercover investigators were able to purchase marijuana without a patient license and witnessed people buying and selling marijuana in the parking lot. He added that some patients were able to receive the drug for minor ailments, such as sore shoulders and stomachaches.
At a few of the homes that were raided, he explained, NET officers encountered strange activities that seemed inconsistent with growing and distributing marijuana for medical purposes.
“We came across some places that were routine drug houses,” Bouchard said. “In one location, a guy had live alligators protecting his marijuana plants. It was like something out of a bad Cheech and Chong movie.”
Ferndale Police Detective Lt. Bill Wilson said that Ferndale officers assisted the NET team with some of the raids, but declined to comment any further on the case, saying that it is a county investigation.
On Aug. 29, Richmond, one of the co-owners of Clinical Relief, released a statement on the company’s website defending the practices of his business and the conduct of his employees.
“Clinical Relief operates within the law and wants to set the standard for our industry,” the statement reads. “Sheriff Bouchard simply doesn’t like the law because it’s too broad. His approach is guilt by association instead of innocence because of medical benefits. He doesn’t respect what two-thirds of Michigan voters decided. … If Sheriff Bouchard has his way: we, you, have no rights even within the law.”
The statement also described the county’s raids as “guns drawn with 8 year olds in the sights, a dragnet that placed truly innocent people in solitary confinement with no charges filed, home searches that were about intimidation as opposed to thoroughness.”
When reached for comment on Aug. 30, Richmond emphasized that Clinical Relief has not closed its doors. “We’ve remained open for business,” he said. “We have done nothing illegal.”
At press time, Barbara Agro and Veseli said they could not comment on the case at the request of their attorneys. Meanwhile, Thomas Loeb, one of the attorneys representing Clinical Relief, could not be reached for comment.
The raid came just two days after the Ferndale City Council voted to end a 90-day moratorium and amend three of the city’s zoning ordinances to allow medical marijuana businesses to open in Ferndale. A fourth ordinance was sent back to the Plan Commission for the consideration of additional changes.
The moratorium was passed on June 14, but Clinical Relief completed the application process about a week before the council took any action. City Manager Bob Bruner explained at the time that because Clinical Relief had already obtained a valid certificate of occupancy and brought the building up to code, its owners were free to open for business.
Mayor Craig Covey, an outspoken supporter of medical marijuana facilities, said that the City Council stands firmly behind its decision to allow businesses like Clinical Relief to operate in Ferndale.
“I personally don’t understand why the county would use such a large amount of precious law enforcement resources on something like this,” he said. “This was obviously a purely political move by the sheriff to flex his muscles and send a message that he does not want medical marijuana clinics in Oakland County.”
Covey also disapproved of the way that NET officials conducted the raids. In various news reports, witnesses at Clinical Relief said that officers had stormed inside with guns drawn and held employees and patients at gunpoint.
“I think the use of SWAT teams with masked and armed officers ordering sick, elderly patients to the ground is totally unnecessary,” Covey said. “It’s very over-the-top and very much a 20th century move. … Now it’s going to cost the taxpayers and the business owners hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees to sort through this mess.”
But Bouchard blamed disputes about medical marijuana on the state law, which officials from all over the county have criticized as being vague and incomplete. He believes that the existing law does not provide clearly defined guidelines for patients or caregivers and is leading to more crime for law enforcement agencies to chase.
“In my opinion, this is not what voters in Michigan wanted,” he said. “There is no quality control or efficacy at all — there is no system in place. The state should have passed a law that would have allowed these (patients) the protection they needed. Lansing needs to put a framework in place, or this problem is only going to get worse.”
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