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Activists cry foul over state police policy change leading to harsher pot charges

Oct 28, 2015

Credit marazmova / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A new State Police crime lab policy allows prosecutors to charge cannabis users with felonies they didn’t commit. That’s according to medical marijuana activists, who uncovered the policy through a public information request and provided the documents to the Michigan Public Radio Network.

The policy instructs crime labs to treat extracts that contain THC as being synthetic. That’s if it is not absolutely clear they came from a cannabis plant. That opens people to felony charges as opposed to misdemeanors.

Attorney Jeff Frazier is with Komorn Law, which is defending a patient who was charged under the policy. Frazier says the state removed the Ottawa County man’s six-year-old son and placed him in a foster home due to the charges. He faces two years behind bars, twice as long as a misdemeanor charge.

“The Michigan state crime lab systematically is reporting false results, the prosecutors then can go charge people with felonies they didn’t commit. In fact, that’s what they’re doing,” said Frazier.

“This contaminates and taints the very reliability and credibility of the police lab.”

Advocates also blasted the policy on Wednesday.

“Michigan taxpayers are paying for these trumped up charges,” said Charmie Gholson, founder of Michigan Moms United, which advocates for medical marijuana patients.

“They’re paying for the investigations. They’re paying for the prosecutions of Michigan families with no criminal intent who believed that the state was going to protect them.”

The documents obtained show there was internal debate among MSP lab technicians and other officials about the policy change. The question was whether they need to prove plant matter is present, even when other cannabis compounds are present – which would be highly unlikely unless the THC came from a plant.

Some lab technicians protested the change.

“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,” said Lansing crime lab Controlled Substances Unit Supervisor Bradley Choate in an email to colleagues.

Most others in the correspondence appeared to back the policy change.

“…other cannablnoids [sic] *can* be manufactured synthetically, just as THC can be,” wrote Inspector John Bowen with MSP’s Quality Assurance & Technical Development division.

“Is it likely that someone went to the trouble to manufacture THC and two other cannabinoids, mix them up, and bake them into a pan of brownies? Of course not. That doesn't mean we should change the results to show we found Marijuana. We didn't, because Marijuana is a plant, and we didn't find plant parts.”

  

The State Police offered this comment:

The ultimate decision on what to charge an individual with rests with the prosecutor.  The role of the laboratory is to determine whether marihuana or THC are present.  Michigan State Police laboratory policy was changed to include the statement ‘origin unknown’ when it is not possible to determine if THC originates from a plant (marihuana) or synthetic means.  This change makes it clear that the source of the THC should not be assumed from the lab results.