Judge Kenneth King on July 31 dismissed the criminal charges against six Viola Extracts employees arrested during a police raid on the Detroit cannabis cultivation business.
Detroit police executed a search warrant May 29 and arrested six workers inside the facility, located just southwest of downtown. Police officers, in conjunction with U.S. Border Patrol agents, confiscated more than 100 lbs. of cannabis. The workers were charged with controlled substance violations “involving the delivery or manufacture of 45 kilograms or more of marijuana or 200 or more plants.”
But Viola Brands investor Al Harrington told Cannabis Business Times that the company had done its due diligence in acquiring local zoning approval and a temporary operations permit. A spokesperson at the city’s Law Department confirmed as much to CBT last month.
The company’s legal attorney, Barton Morris, argued that Detroit police did not do the legwork to confirm the business’s permits and records prior to conducting the May 29 raid.
“[The employees] were charged with having an unlawful cultivation operation—basically, having too many plants,” Morris told CBT. “These guys have done everything that they could possibly have been expected to do in order to be able to operate in the manner in which did. [That] basically means: Get all the required permits and licensing from the city of Detroit and then also apply for the state license.”
The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) approved its first medical marijuana licenses July 12. All license applicants must first obtain local approval before submitting documents to the state. (LARA’s Medical Marihuana Licensing Board will meet again Aug. 9 to review the next batch of applications.)
Hundreds of medical marijuana businesses submitted applications to the state by the Feb 15., 2018, deadline. Until they receive a license from the state, they are caught in a gray area of the market—where local city councils may grant a temporary permit, but where the state has not yet extended formal approval and protection.
“The issue here really is: What is the definition of ‘temporary operation’?” Morris said.
Viola Extracts found itself in the legal crosshairs of multiple local agencies that hadn’t communicated the extent of Viola’s business presence in the city.
Police seized more than $500,000 dollars in company bank accounts, according to Morris, along with six cars and a bevy of cannabis cultivation equipment. Had city prosecutors been successful in garnering a conviction, the police department would have kept that money and those assets.
Morris said that the city is waiting to confirm that no appeals will be filed in court before returning any assets seized by the police department.
“They should be giving that stuff back. Immediately,” he said, intimating that the company is considering a lawsuit against the city. “I really believe the police didn’t do the job they were supposed to.”
As for the plants? They’re ruined, of course.
When Morris and Harrington and other company personnel stood outside the Viola Extracts warehouse on July 13 and spoke to local reporters, they underscored the social and political ramifications of law enforcement actions like the May 29 raid.
Following up after the cases had been dismissed, Morris reiterated those concerns.
“People of color are more likely to be prosecuted for marijuana-related offenses than those who are [white],” Morris told CBT. “I think this is a perfect example of it. They’re generally bigger targets. A lot of people are not going to be able to survive what these guys survived if they don’t have NBA basketball player money.”
The story’s not over—not for Viola and not for the nascent medical marijuana in Michigan.
“This is an example of what happens during a transition from a gray marijuana market to a green marijuana market,” Morris said. “We’re not in a black market; these guys were operating, first, as caregivers under the old law and then there’s this whole transition to commercial cultivation. That’s what these guys were doing—and doing everything they were supposed to do, following the advice of their lawyers every step of the way, not doing anything wrong. Yet they still have this happen to them. What that really is about is the fact that cannabis has a long way to go."
Top photo courtesy of Viola Brands