Prosecution, defense dispute facts in medical marijuana defendant’s case

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published June 22, 2011

 Barbara Agro, 70, of Lake Orion is a former employee of the Ferndale-based medical marijuana dispensary Clinical Relief. On June 8, an Oakland County Circuit Court jury found her guilty of one count of delivery and manufacture of marijuana.

Barbara Agro, 70, of Lake Orion is a former employee of the Ferndale-based medical marijuana dispensary Clinical Relief. On June 8, an Oakland County Circuit Court jury found her guilty of one count of delivery and manufacture of marijuana.

File photo by Brian Louwers

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PONTIAC — One of eight former employees of a Ferndale-based medical marijuana dispensary was convicted on a drug-related charge earlier this month, but her attorney plans to appeal the case immediately after sentencing.

On June 8, an Oakland County Circuit Court jury found Barbara Agro, 70, of Lake Orion guilty of one count of delivery and manufacture of marijuana, a four-year felony. Agro, a former Lake Orion police dispatcher, will be sentenced on July 13 before Circuit Court Judge Wendy Potts.

During a raid of her home last August, the Oakland County Narcotics Enforcement Team arrested Agro and seized 19 marijuana plants and about $11,000 in cash. Although Agro is a licensed medical marijuana patient and caregiver, Potts granted a motion from prosecutors prohibiting the defense from including this testimony during the trial. According to Agro’s defense attorney, Jerome Sabbota, the judge’s ruling meant that the jury only heard a distorted, incomplete version of his client’s story.

“Barb was not allowed to present a full defense,” he said. “We certainly plan to appeal that she was not allowed to exercise her constitutional right to a fair trial. If you’re going to include part of someone’s statement, then you have to include all of it. Barb and her husband both had licenses to be medical marijuana patients and caregivers. But the judge said that information was not relevant, which I believe is incorrect.”

Sabbota argued that he was not allowed to use medical marijuana as a defense because of one small technicality. He noted that the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act stipulates that a marijuana growing operation must be maintained in a closed storage facility. Agro did not meet this standard, he said, because when her home was raided, there was no door leading down to the basement where her marijuana plants were being grown.

However, according to Paul Walton, chief assistant prosecutor for Oakland County, Judge Potts was correct in ruling that Agro’s story did not satisfy the conditions of a medical marijuana case.

“This was a regular marijuana case because Ms. Agro could not meet the minimum burden of proof to justify using medical marijuana as a defense,” he explained. “The law requires that caregivers meet all the requirements, not just some of them. This is not a free-for-all. You can’t just say, ‘I have this card now, so I can do whatever I want.’ You have to abide by the law, just like everyone else.”

Walton stressed that even under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, marijuana is still illegal in Michigan. What the law does, he said, is provide an exemption for licensed patients to use the drug for medical purposes — but only if they follow a very specific set of provisions.

The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act has stirred up plenty of controversy and passionate emotions ever since it was first approved by voters in November 2008. On the final day of Agro’s trial, a group of medical marijuana supporters gathered outside the Oakland County courthouse in Pontiac to protest the case. Some of Agro’s jurors were approached by the protesters, who reportedly spoke to them and handed them written information.

Walton believes that Potts did “an excellent job” of addressing the situation. “After she found out about the protesters,” he said, “she brought each and every juror in and asked them if this was going to influence their verdict. All of them said no. The judge did exactly what was necessary in this case. … Protesters still have their First Amendment rights, but they don’t have the right to voice their opinions in a way that will influence a jury trial.”

On Aug. 25, 2010, the Oakland County Narcotics Enforcement Team raided three businesses — Clinical Relief, located at 362 Hilton Road in Ferndale, and two others in Waterford — and 13 homes, where they arrested 17 people for violating medical marijuana laws. 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 Clinical Relief employees were arraigned in Ferndale 43rd District Court.

Then, on May 6, District Court Judge Joe Longo ruled that there was probable cause for Anthony Agro, Barbara Agro, Nicholas Agro, Matthew Curtis, Ryan Fleissner, Barbara Johnson, Ryan Richmond and Angelina Veseli to be bound over for trial in Oakland County Circuit Court. In addition, Longo dropped all charges against a ninth Clinical Relief employee, Stacey Ellenbrook.

A pretrial for the eight defendants from Clinical Relief is scheduled for June 27 in Circuit Court. As Sabbota explained, while Barbara Agro’s trial concerned the marijuana that was found on her personal property, this case will deal with the alleged violations made by the business itself.

Sabbota contended that county officials have been cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries not because of a strong commitment to law enforcement, but for financial reasons.

“They seized about $11,000 from Barb’s home, but that money would have gone to the state if this were regulated the way it should be,” he said. “Why doesn’t the state just regulate medical marijuana and tax it? … This issue really comes down to money because when drugs are seized, the money is divided between the (county) prosecutor’s office and the sheriff’s department. Believe me, they have a big stake in the outcome of this case.”

 

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