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Thursday, November 4,2010

Negative approach

Is the case of Frederick Wayne Dagit bad for the medical marijuana cause?

by Neal McNamara

On Tuesday afternoon, the Rev. Frederick Wayne Dagit sat in a black- and white-striped Ingham County Jail jumpsuit in 55th District Court in Mason. He looked calm, rested and alert. It was his second appearance in court after the Tri- County Metro Narcotics Squad raided his Okemos house and Williamstown Township pot smokers club and church exactly two weeks ago, allegedly finding a total of more than 200 pounds of marijuana at both locations.


Michael Van Huysse, Dagit’s court appointed attorney, asked Judge Donald Allen Jr. to reduce Dagit’s $500,000 bond and for a preliminary examination to be moved up two weeks. Allen adjourned Dagit’s next hearing until June 22, but did not immediately reduce his bond. Allen said he would consider it — though only reducing it to $150,000, still outside of Dagit’s financial reach — but had concerns about Dagit’s criminal history and the fact that he’d only lived in the area for six months.


Van Huysse’s pleas that Dagit, who suffers from cirrhosis, was not healthy enough to remain in jail and that he was an important pillar in the medical marijuana community did not seem to faze Allen. Dagit, a medical marijuana cardholder, will remain in that striped jumpsuit until at least June 22.


In the two weeks since Dagit’s arrest, it appears that law enforcement officials were targeting Dagit alone — not the medical marijuana smoking club he oversaw in Williamstown Township, nor the business partners. The club is open, and no one else has been arrested. According to court documents, police set up a buy/best scenario with Dagit alone.


Medical marijuana activists say that while arresting someone for marijuana is stupid, it’s the law, which still has to be obeyed.


Greg Francisco, the former executive director of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, says that the state needs to start regulating medical marijuana smoking clubs — like Dagit’s — so that people are not being arrested for violating an unclear law.


Francisco said that he and Dagit have “struck sparks” in the past and was not surprised about the arrest. He said that before his arrest, Dagit seemed determined to get a “test case.”


“I don’t want a beer drinkers club opening up down the street without regulation. Fortunately they do have regulation; it’s called a liquor license,” Francisco said. “We as an association don’t object to reasonable regulation.”


Dagit’s arrest could cause backlash against medical marijuana, but Francisco feels that a visible solution would be clear regulation on medical marijuana.


Mike Meno, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which sponsored the 2008 medical marijuana ballot drive, said that Michigan’s law was purposefully silent on medical marijuana distribution. Under the administration of George W. Bush, the federal Justice Department was vigilant about cracking down on medical marijuana for violating federal law. The administration of Barack Obama is doing the opposite, which is why states like Colorado and Rhode Island are beginning to pass legislation regulating dispensaries.


“There’s a lot of the confusion resulting from the fact that Michigan’s law doesn’t speak to dispensaries,” Meno said. “Without that clarity, local law enforcement is interpreting the law differently from county to county or city to city. It sends a mixed message about what patients can and can’t do.”


Meno’s organization sees medical marijuana as a separate issue from ending marijuana prohibition — that is, the arrest and prosecution of marijuana users, buyers and sellers. So a case like Dagit’s has the potential to damage the public’s perception of medical marijuana, though it’s still a mostly popular measure.


“We don’t want these laws to be a mockery,” Meno said. “These are laws that are passed for sick people, not for everyone.”

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