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Kent County, others miss out on grant money for medical marijuana enforcement

Posted at 5:27 PM, Nov 14, 2016

MICHIGAN — County sheriff's offices in just 18 of Michigan's 83 counties this year applied for a slice of a $3-million pot of state money set aside for medical marijuana enforcement.

Kent County—eligible for upwards of $130,000—was not one.

Michigan sheriffs are paying for overtime and buying vests, guns, Tasers and vehicles with the little-known pot of state money.

Undersheriff Michelle Young said her department was unaware.

"We could absolutely use it for compliance and enforcement," she said. "Unfortunately we didn’t hit the deadline... but I really wish we would’ve had it for this year."

Young said the money could be used to pay for equipment like body cameras, training for personnel, or education for cardholders. Currently, equipment and services like that are paid through the county's general fund.

"But it’s obviously not enough," she said. "It all adds up and the number of resources that come in to help offset those expenses for the taxpayer, that all helps our community.”

Data provided by the Michigan Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs

Data provided by the Michigan Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs

Berrien, Cass and Muskegon were the only counties in West Michigan to apply for and receive the grant money. Berrien applied for and received $40,550, Cass $14,224 and Muskegon $61,249.

However, in its report to the state, the Berrien County Sheriff's Office acknowledged "the only problem" with the program was that the agency was not notified it had been selected to participate in the grant until midway through the fiscal year.

All three counties reported using the money to go toward the purchase of equipment and the education of citizens.

Berrien County said it used the grant to investigate six grow operations, resulting in six arrests and a seizure of five pounds of marijuana and 338 plants. The county said it used just $2,597 of the money it received.

Cass County investigated eight marijuana grow operations, five of which were found to be non-compliant, according to the county sheriff's final report filed with the state. The bulk of grant money, more than $13,000, was spent on body cameras and video storage equipment while the remaining $800 was spent on personnel. "Hundreds of citizens" also attended 23 different training sessions for cardholders provided by the county, the report said.

>> MORE: Read full state report here

Michigan voters in 2008 approved the use of marijuana to treat certain illnesses. Nearly 225,000 people have state-issued cards, but the law has confused many and has led to significant legal disputes, including over how to obtain and store the drug. Large illegal growing operations have been busted around the state.

Since 2015, lawmakers have set aside money for sheriffs for medical marijuana enforcement and education. It's administered by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Every county was eligible this year for a portion of the $3 million, based on the number of new cards or renewals in that county.

Seventeen counties spent $823,000 in 2016, according to a state report. The largest, Wayne and Oakland, spent a combined 67 percent of that figure.

Oakland spent $282,661, much of it on training and investigation overtime. The sheriff's office bought a $31,000 van, a $30,000 pickup truck and a $6,800 cargo trailer.

"We didn't have equipment," Sheriff Mike Bouchard told the Associated Press. "We'd come across huge illegal grow operations — hundreds and hundreds of plants — and we'd have to rent trucks or trailers. ... The grant helps alleviate some of the costs necessary to do these activities, but it's just a sliver."

The grants were used in smaller counties, too. Sanilac spent $2,850 on five semi-automatic weapons. Antrim spent $479 on night vision binoculars. Cheboygan purchased Tasers.

Young believes the grants haven't been promoted enough.

"We have not been surprised by the participation rate as this was and still is a new program," spokesman for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Michael Loepp told the Associated Press.

LARA confirmed to FOX 17 the Sheriff's Association and Prosecutor's Association were notified about the new application process.

Unused money remains in the fund, according to the report.

The deadline to apply for the next round of funding is Jan. 1. Young said the department can use the extra time to more properly budget for larger, more expensive capital purchases that can made with the grant funding.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.