Judge hears arguments in class action marijuana lawsuit

Posted at 9:17 PM, Nov 02, 2016

DETROIT, Mich. -- A judge on Wednesday heard arguments in a federal class action lawsuit filed by medical marijuana patients and caregivers against several Michigan law enforcement and crime lab officials.

The suit, filed in June, claims that because of false lab reports, prosecutors are charging people with felonies without proof, illegally arresting them and seizing assets.  Four patients and caregivers are suing the directors of the Michigan State Police, their crime labs and the publicly-operated Oakland County lab and that county's sheriff.

Chief Judge Denise Page Hood of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit said she will issue an opinion and decide whether the labs' marijuana reporting policies violate the Fourth Amendment and due process rights of the medical marijuana patients and caregivers.

Read the plaintiffs' lawsuit here.

Read the state defendants' motion to dismiss here.

One of the four plaintiffs, Max Lorincz from Spring Lake, testified to having hash oil, but was charged with a felony for having synthetic THC.  He lost custody of his 6-year-old son to foster care for 18 months until his case was dismissed; a case and statewide scandal FOX 17 broke last year.

"The problem is, the way that the Oakland County lab and the Michigan State Forensic Science Division is reporting still would allow for arrests, still would allow for these patients and caregivers to not have immunity because they're reporting it as something other than marijuana," said Michael Komorn, the plaintiffs' attorney.  "And the law enforcement community, as far as we know, is still arresting people for possessing these substances."

In court Wednesday, Defense Attorney Rock Wood with the Michigan Attorney General's office representing the state police and crime labs' directors, along with Defense Attorney Nicole Tabin representing the Oakland County lab's director and sheriff, declined requests for comment. Wood argued this is not a case involving altered, hidden or destroyed evidence. Instead, the defense writes in their motion to dismiss the case:

"The MSP policy is consistent with the current national standard for testing of seized drugs and avoids speculation as to the source of chemical components unless there is zero qualitative uncertainty."

Ultimately, the labs' policy states that unless there is marijuana plant matter seen along with THC, scientists label it "Schedule 1 THC, origin unknown," instead of marijuana.  This is the difference between a felony, or a marijuana possession misdemeanor which patients and caregivers can be immune for under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.

The plaintiffs' attorneys and their experts say that 100 percent certainty for any evidence, even DNA is not possible.

"You know that nobody's going to go through the trouble of synthesizing THC, along with other cannabinoids," said Timothy Daniels, another attorney representing the plaintiffs.  "And therefore you know to almost a 100 percent, and I won't say 100 percent, let's say 99 percent certainty, that is marijuana, not synthetic."

Overall, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act protects licensed patients and caregivers from charges and prosecution for having limited amounts of usable marijuana, not THC with an unknown origin.  It's this lab policy the suit is working to stop.

"It's a little troubling that the defense is still suggesting their reporting practices are honorable," said Komorn.

Statewide, as crime labs continue to report THC and marijuana in ways that many call controversial, the decision now rests in the judge's hands.  It's a decision that could potentially reopen hundreds of cases across Michigan.

Meanwhile, recently passed legislation now legalizes medical marijuana patients and caregivers use of marijuana extracts like oils and edibles. The defense argued the lawsuit is moot in part due to this, however the plaintiffs' attorneys stand firm that people continue to be unlawfully arrested, charged, and prosecuted for possession of extracts due to the labs' reporting policy.