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Thursday, July 11,2013

The Okemos 7

How a group of white-collar men gets entwined in a drug conspiracy when state and federal law collide

by Andy Balaskovitz
"I must say you don’t look like the typical drug defendant that we have in our court.” U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Scoville was talking to 65-year-old Dennis Corey in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids in December. Corey, with a slim build and silver hair, was looking back at five federal charges for his role in a medical marijuana growing operation across the street from Okemos High School. A former state employee and insurance agent for 30 years, Corey was little more than a janitor in the operation, sweeping floors and performing other routine maintenance that comes with growing pot indoors. Corey had no idea how to even grow cannabis, he told Scoville. He was to learn in time.

But that is only partly how Corey became involved with a group of men, largely like himself, who became known as the Okemos Seven. More than two years before Corey found himself in court on this December 2012 morning, a longtime family friend — and future son-in-law — approached him with an idea. In 2008, Michigan voters had approved a law allowing qualified people to use and grow marijuana for medical purposes — and there was money to be made if you knew how to supply good product. The real estate market was tanking. Put two and two together. 

Still, the money wasn’t what drew Corey into the deal. He wasn’t paying rent at the pole barn near Jolly and Hagadorn roads. He didn’t even know how to grow. While he was licensed to grow by the state, he planned to learn down the road. Corey was in the group to be close to his son, Kyle Corey, who had been living in California for two years before he came back to join the operation. It was also a chance to be “close to my best friend” and future son-in-law, Ryan Basore, who made the business case to other investors. The third reason? “I could be on the ground floor of a cause that I thought was worthwhile,” he told Scoville, according to court transcripts.

So there were Dennis and Kyle Corey and Basore — along with Lance and Dennis Forsberg (another father and son), Douglas Frakes and Patrick Karslake — roughly three years ago today, setting off to grow high-quality medical marijuana as a collective. A well-known real estate agent (Dennis Forsberg, 59), two insurance salesmen (Dennis Corey and Basore, 36), a prominent local businessman and star MSU athlete (Karslake, 64), a retired state corrections employee (Frakes, 58), a growing expert (Lance Forsberg, 33) and a young man (Kyle Corey, 23) who couldn’t legally buy a six-pack of beer at the time. The plan was to make more than half a million dollars a year among them, occupy vacant commercial space and provide medicine to sick people. They wouldn’t do so without first telling local police their plan, drawing up contracts, forming limited liability companies and filing for a federal tax ID. What could go wrong?

Everything. 

How it worked

Around May 2010, the entrepreneur in Basore — and thousands of others across the state — saw an opportunity in growing and distributing medical marijuana within the confines of how the law was structured. Dennis Forsberg’s company had the property to do so. Frakes had the investment capital to get moving. Lance Forsberg knew how to grow. The Coreys were brought in as family friends and caregivers to allow a higher plant count and be mentored on how to grow their own. Rulings on communal grows and patient-to-patient transfers had not yet been issued by courts. Perhaps equally as important, Bill Schuette — the crusader judge opposed to the medical marijuana law — hadn’t been elected attorney general yet. Things were looking optimistic in the medical marijuana business, at least for a time.

According to court records, Dennis Forsberg, along with Basore and Frakes, formed a limited liability company called RYDEN to back the growing operation at 2933-2935 Jolly Road inside tan, nondescript pole barns. A business agreement drawn up by Basore outlined a return on investment — factoring in rent, plant counts and usable product at $300 an ounce — that would have provided him and Dennis Forsberg 45 percent each of the profits, or $237,510 a year, according to the agreement. The other 10 percent — $52,780 — would have gone to two other non-identified caregivers onsite daily.

Dennis Forsberg also leased space at 2360 Jolly Oak Road, about a mile and a half east, to Karslake, who subleased a portion of it back to Dennis Forsberg. The Jolly Oak property was a partnership among Dennis Forsberg, Basore and Karslake, run under an LLC called DENRY.

Lance Forsberg said the two Jolly Road properties were each split into flowering and vegetative rooms. Plants go through a vegetative state after taking root, followed by the flowering period that produces a usable product after it’s dried and cured. 

Basore and Lance Forsberg would take harvest-ready plants home to trim and distribute to other caregivers or dispensaries. However, after roughly five months of growing, Lance Forsberg told a federal magistrate judge, the operation wasn’t close to covering the initial investment: “We lost a great deal of money, your Honor.”

The raid

Five months after lease agreements at the Jolly Road grow facility took effect, federal and local agents who’d been watching the group stood by on a late-November evening. That night, Lance Forsberg — the expert grower of the group — was teaching a grow class at the Jolly Road site. Federal agents waited for him to leave. When he was pulled over and approached by one of them, Forsberg reached out to shake his hand. He’d been expecting them in a way. He figured they were making sure the group was doing what it said it was doing. 

For the next five or six hours, Lance Forsberg sat in a car on the side of the road as authorities ransacked the two spaces on Jolly and the other on Jolly Oak Road, seizing plants and grow equipment and destroying surveillance cameras. The reason he sat for several hours, he said, was so authorities could pull a search warrant on his house on the east side of Lansing, where they believed he maintained some sort of sinister “mother plant” that would supply starter plants for the rest of the operation — like the mother ship in that movie “Independence Day,” from which all those little alien space crafts launch to attack Will Smith and the rest of the planet. In reality, Lance Forsberg was said to be one of the best growers in Lansing. He took the job seriously as a horticulturist. Many other growers depended on him for propagating good cuttings.

At his home on Magnolia Street, authorities took his livelihood. They were also going to take an ashtray with sentimental value, he said, but once the federal agents realized it wasn’t Waterford, they left it. “Laughing jackals as they destroyed my life,” is how he described it to Lansing Online News in a radio interview. When he asked the federal agents about a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice memo that directed federal prosecutors not to go after state-compliant medical marijuana growers and patients, the response was: “Obama’s not our boss. We don’t report to him.” The libertarian inside Lance Forsberg was fuming. “This is America?” he asked them. “And the room went quiet,” he later said. “They didn’t have a smart answer for that one.”

Authorities seized what it counted as 171 plants from the Jolly Oak site, 126 at 2935 Jolly Road and 28 at 2933 Jolly Road, according to court records. Another 122 were seized from Lance Forsberg’s house. “Over 100” were also seized at an additional site operated by Karslake, according to Rene Shekmer, an assistant federal prosecutor on the case. That brings the total to at least 547 plants seized; however, the additional plants found at Karslake’s separate site never appeared in the indictment. (Karslake’s attorney said that site included another grower, but he wouldn’t discuss specifics.) The numbers are important because under state law caregivers can grow up to 60 plants, as well as 12 more for themselves, if they are also patients. Based on those who were both caregivers and patients, the group was able to grow up to 420 plants.

However, another distinction to be made is what constitutes a plant. Bob Baldori, Frakes’ attorney, maintains that many of those seized were young cuttings without roots and wouldn’t have counted as plants under state law. Had this been argued in state court, he said they were “absolutely” within the allowable plant count.

It was longer than a year-and-a-half before the indictment was filed in the Western District federal court in Grand Rapids. You can imagine that kind of waiting game.

Shekmer did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Rich Isaacson, spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Detroit office, said the investigation was a partnership of the DEA, the Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as well as local law enforcement agencies. “Some probably participated to larger degrees than others,” he said. He declined to say how the investigation began. Authorities seized grow equipment in addition to the plants, Isaacson said. He declined to say what kind of federal resources were expended on the investigation. A response to that question in a Freedom of Information Act request sent June 13 by City Pulse has not yet been received.

Indeed, the War on Drugs had come to town and it was about to come down hard. Basore, who met Lance Forsberg through the local medical marijuana scene and called him “probably the best grower around,” reported Blackhawk helicopters flying over his Williamston house. Basore was also co-owner of a dispensary, Capital City Caregivers, on East Michigan Avenue at the time — that’s where some of the group’s product was to be sold. Speaking in front of family, friends and fellow medical marijuana advocates at The Avenue Caf' in late May — shortly before he was to report to prison in Morgantown, W.V. — he couldn’t help feeling like a casualty.

“When an armed National Guard throws smoke bombs through your building, it feels like war. When they fly helicopters above your house, it feels like war. When they take your assets and your money, it feels like war. Now I’m about to be locked in a cage,” he told the crowd of over 50 people. “This is the war on drugs.”

Not your average drug conspirators

The Coreys and Basore

Jenna Corey is busy on the weekends these days. As the daughter and sister to Dennis and Kyle Corey, respectively — and the fianc'e of Basore — she rotates traveling to West Virginia, Wisconsin and southeast Michigan visiting her family in prison. If she’s not traveling, she’s working in the area to save money to do so.

She said it “started out rough” in prison for her brother and father because they — like the five others in the case — received “5K letters” from the prosecutor, which excuses them from the five-year mandatory minimum sentence based on their testimony that helps the government’s investigation of the case. Jenna Corey said prisoners called her brother  a “snitch” because of this. “He was getting kind of abused and was forced to fight.” Within the past month, a “50-year-old guy named Tom” stood up for Kyle, who’s serving two years in a medium-security prison in Oxford, Wis. “It was just scary for a second. He was saying he thought he wasn’t going to make it. He’s not a fighter.” She also said her brother has had to keep his personal photos hidden because he comes from a mixed-race family. “It’s an issue inside Oxford.”

Kyle Corey’s case was not helped when he got into a car accident after the raid. Police found pot roaches in the car and “automatically assumed he was under the influence,” she said.

Jenna Corey, who’s two years older than Kyle, was living with him near San Diego when the business opportunity in Okemos presented itself. Kyle Corey, the youngest of five children, became a state-licensed caregiver for five patients, Jenna Corey said, meaning he could grow 60 plants. He graduated from Williamston High School and took an interest in theater while there. “He was always just a fun kid,” his sister said. “Everyone always liked him — he has no enemies.”

She said her dad is “on pins and needles” in Milan Federal Correctional Institution in southeast Michigan. “He doesn’t tell me much. He’s a little stubborn.” The experience has turned him onto Christianity, “which is not how our family was before this happened,” she said.  

Dennis Corey grew up in Lansing and worked 30 years as an insurance agent. “He’s always been really serious,” his daughter said. “He taught us to follow the rules and was extremely passionate about everything. He always wanted us to do our best.” And he’s been supportive, even taking two of her friends into the family home while they were in high school. He met Basore through the same insurance company they worked for. From then on, Basore started showing up more at family events and helping with sports.

Basore’s circumstance in prison appears to be working out better than Dennis and Kyle’s, Jenna said. She and Basore have known each other for years and got engaged shortly before he left for prison in Morgantown, W. Va. In prison, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays Basore takes part in Native American rituals thanks to help from a friend inside. For a few hours, they sit in a sweat lounge and afterward smoke a ceremonious peace pipe with tobacco. He plays softball on Thursdays and Fridays as part of a league, reads (“Game of Thrones” at the moment) and has a job cleaning toilets and floors. He’s also lost 30 pounds and put on a nice tan from being outside so much, she said.

“I think Ryan has not changed. The other two (her father and brother) have changed and I don’t say for the better,” Jenna Corey said. “Their demeanor is different. Things are more serious.”

The Forsbergs

Basore got the longest sentence of any of them — four years — for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and manufacturing marijuana. The next longest sentences came down on Dennis and Lance Forsberg — three years each for conspiracy and manufacturing marijuana as well as manufacturing within 1,000 feet of a school. They originally faced 13 counts. Lance, 33, has been in Morgantown with Basore since last month, while Dennis Forberg is scheduled to report to Butner, N.C., in a few weeks.

While Lance Forsberg has been outspoken, his father took a more quiet approach. He hired local PR man John Truscott about five months ago. Part of that decision was about protecting Forsberg’s business, Forsberg Real Estate Co., Truscott said.

In a five-page letter to U.S. District Judge Janet Neff, Dennis Forsberg described his role as “something that I will regret the rest of my life.” He worked in the family construction business full time since he was 23, a business started by his father in 1951. He described riding his bike to the office when he was 12 years old during summers to show up by 5 a.m. to do basic maintenance and cleanup. Later on, he attended college at Western Michigan University, Lansing Community College and Michigan State University. He studied physics, calculus, accounting, chemistry and engineering, building up about 200 credit hours but never earning a degree. He married “the love of my life,” JoAnn Mitchell, when he was 22. She agreed to be a stay-at-home mom to raise children, he wrote to the judge. They’ve been married ever since and have four children, ranging from their early 20s to early 30s, all of whom have graduated or are still in college. 

After starting and selling a successful asphalt paving business in Traverse City, Dennis Forsberg returned to Lansing to work for his father. He’d had a real estate license since he was 19 and did residential, commercial and industrial development on the side. He’s served on the board and as president for the Home Builders Association of Greater Lansing. Money raised through the Big Buck Contest & Wild Game Dinner he founded while on the board goes toward scholarships and a Lansing homeless center. “The last year has been very hard for my family, my businesses and these events,” he wrote to Judge Neff.

He also said the raids left him with $30,000 in debt from making the buildings suitable to grow in. He doesn’t smoke pot — he “looked at it as a business opportunity to help others who do use it for medical purposes.” He told Meridian Township Police Chief David Hall about his plans, but “I did not speak with federal law, and I was wrong. This was a terrible mistake on my part. It will never happen again.”

While Hall confirmed that Dennis Forsberg came to the police station and discussed with him “some of the issues with state law” and what he wanted to do, Hall said it would be “inappropriate to discuss” anything further because it was a federal case.

Meanwhile, Lance Forsberg is much more willing to describe what happened. He sat calmly and contemplatively in a corner booth at The Avenue Caf' on a warm May evening wearing a long-sleeve flannel shirt, ball cap, pants and hiking boots. Weeks before going to prison in Morgantown, W. Va., and leaving behind his 3-year-old daughter, his outlook was “positive,” he said. 

“I’d like to say I have regret,” he said, but this fight is about preserving civil liberties — “such an important aspect of our culture.” And worth it, “If I can pay the price today for my daughter’s better tomorrow.”

“This isn’t the end. This is the creation of my story, not the final chapter,” he said. “The growth I’ve experienced, I’d never give back. There’s no growth in comfortability. It’s 1 percent what happens to you and 99 percent how you react. It’s actually been a good thing, allowing me to find my inner strength. My mom and family are suffering more than we are. My poor mother has a son and husband going away. My daughter was sentenced to three years without her father. The people around me are going to suffer the most.”

Forsberg said he “knew at one point in time we were being watched” by authorities, but he didn’t predict the extent of the outcome: “I never thought it’d go down the way it did.” And why should he? The group assumed it was being up front with all the right people. In fact, when a federal agent initially made contact with him, Forberg said he reached out to shake his hand. “I thought someone was coming to check up on us. It’s not like we were doing it in hiding.”

Forsberg, a Williamston High School and Hope College graduate, takes the process of growing good medical marijuana seriously. He told Lansing Online News in a radio interview that he got into the trade after a farming accident in 2007. The steroids, painkillers and muscle relaxers for treatment made him feel like a “walking robot, basically.” The next year, Michigan voters approved the state Medical Marihuana Act. He then devoted his attention to learning how to grow high-quality cannabis, which he also turned to as an alternate treatment for his pain. But he soon found that a Michigan basement made his crop susceptible to mold, mildew and other obstacles. The opportunity to grow in a commercial facility was tempting on two fronts: He could grow in a more controllable setting, as well as move it out of his house to “a place I could walk away from and keep some semblance of life.” He would also teach nutrient and propagation classes at the Jolly Road facility. 

He was allowed to grow up to 72 plants under state law, as a patient and caregiver for five others, but small cuttings that had barely even rooted were included in the plant count. He said he provided other growers with these cuttings before they rooted. While the feds included his house as part of the operation, Forsberg said the growing there had nothing to do with it: “Couldn’t be further from the truth.” After initially facing 59 to 160 years in prison, he pleaded guilty to the same three charges as his father and is serving three years in prison.

Karslake, Frakes

At the Jolly Oak Road site, Dennis Forsberg was approached by Patrick Karslake — the prominent local businessman who started the Wheeler Dealer publication — who was searching for grow space. Doing so at Karslake’s home had come to bother his children so much that they wouldn’t come over, Karslake said in court. His involvement in the operation was limited to the Jolly Oak Road site.

“I tried to grow some marijuana at my house and it stank so bad my kids wouldn’t come in,” he told U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Scoville. The building was the smallest space Dennis Forsberg had, he said: two floors in a commercial area. “I talked with the head of the state police as to what the requirements would be to grow it, and he said make it secure. So I remodeled it so it would be secure on there, and subleased space to care providers to grow marijuana.”

Karslake was released from prison on Friday after serving less than a year. He was the first to be adjudicated because on Aug. 21, 2012, the day he was released on bond from charges stemming from the initial raid, he was arrested for growing over 100 plants at another site, according to court records. Four months later, Judge Neff would tell Karslake that growing again after the first raid “really seemed pretty dumb for a guy as smart as he obviously is.” He agreed: “Greed had a lot to do with it,” Karslake said in court, according to transcripts. “I tried to make a bad situation, tried to fix something that couldn’t possibly be fixed, and just made things worse. … As my girlfriend put it, it was weed and greed. There is no excuse for it.”

At a September hearing, Karslake pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture 100 or more marijuana plants; manufacturing 100 or more marijuana plants; and maintaining a drug-involved premises.

Karslake’s attorney, David Clark, said during sentencing proceedings in January that he hoped both the state of Michigan and the U.S. attorney general would at least clarify which laws they plan to enforce. “Therefore,” Clark said, “anyone who thinks or deludes themselves into thinking that this sort of activity is going to be condoned, they are wrong, they are dead wrong, and seriously wrong,” he said before Neff.

Born in Lansing, Karslake earned a bachelor’s degree in general business administration from MSU in 1970, where he was a top wrestler. After college, he sold life insurance for about three years before he started Wheeler Dealer, which he sold about 19 years ago. Until last year, he still worked there. He was also closely involved in mentoring young wrestlers in the area: “Any young wrestler in mid-Michigan knows Pat Karslake,” Clark said in court. “If you go to an MSU football game and you go over to the place where everyone has their parties and stuff, you got a bunch of wrestlers around, they all know Mr. Karslake. And it’s all good he’s done for those folks.”

Before this case, Karslake’s criminal history was spotless, aside from a few speeding tickets, according to court records. “He certainly is not the profile of the usual drug defendant,” Judge Neff said during sentencing.

Finally, there is Douglas Frakes, who was basically an investor in the operation who was also a licensed medical marijuana patient. Frakes got the lightest sentence of the seven — one day for conspiracy to manufacture 100 or more marijuana plants.

He said in court that his lifelong friend, Dennis Forsberg, approached him in May 2010 with a “business venture” to grow medical marijuana. “At that point in time, I was under the understanding that because the state of Michigan approved it, that it was fine,” he told U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh Brenneman in December, according to court transcripts. “But I have since come to the realization that it is not legal by the federal government. And that is something that I made — well, it’s been a nightmare mistake.”

On May 28, 2010, Frakes signed a check for $25,000 to get things going. He knew Basore was to manage the distribution of the medical marijuana once it was ready and Lance Forsberg was the “master gardener.” Frakes only met Kyle and Dennis Corey once or twice, he said. Frakes added that he only visited the Jolly Road grow operations two times — he didn’t have a key for the building.

Shekmer, the federal prosecutor in the case, said in court that Frakes was forced to retire from the state Department of Corrections due to health issues. “And he was looking to supplement retirement income when Mr. Forsberg approached him about making this investment. … He was more of just providing the money to start up the program as opposed to having anything to do with the actual plants.”

Frakes declined to comment for this story.

For DEA, the times are not a-changing

One by one, as each defendant’s case was adjudicated, whether any of them were in compliance with state law was never argued because it’s irrelevant in federal court. Even so, the difference is little more than a “subtle distinction” from their intentions, according to one attorney who worked on the case.

Baldori, who represented Frakes in court, said the group made a “good-faith effort to be in compliance” with state law — “You can make an argument whether they were, but there’s no question they made a good-faith effort to be in compliance. There are subtle distinctions. Why would they tell everyone in the world they were doing this unless they went to extraordinary measures to make sure? It makes no sense at all.”

Moreover, “In order to have conspiracy, you have to have evil intent. They didn’t have that,” Baldori said. “The government is going to say they knew it was illegal under federal law. But the fact that they thought it was legal under Michigan law arguably defeats that.” To Baldori, the case never got litigated for any of the defendants because costs would have risen to six figures and the risks of losing with a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence looming were too great.

But despite 18 states around the country having medical marijuana laws on the books — and two have outright legalized it — the DEA’s position on marijuana remains unchanged. Simply put, the agency doesn’t believe marijuana serves a medical purpose.

“A lot of the passion I have regarding marijuana, the passion I have against medical marijuana, is not as a DEA agent as much as it is a concerned parent,” the DEA’s Isaacson said. “I’m a man who’s interested in drug prevention. When you have these medical marijuana laws and you have an increased availability of marijuana in our community, you have a lessened perception of risk by young people, and that leads directly to increased use of marijuana among people.”

Still, he said, Michigan medical marijuana patients need not fear the feds: “Here in Michigan, the people who have their legitimate medical marijuana cards, if they’re following the law, they don’t have to be concerned about the DEA using its resources to go after them. We target large-scale manufacturers.” He argues that the Okemos Seven “were not following the letter of state law” due to the nature of the operation. “If it had been, the DEA would not have devoted its resources (to stopping it). … People starting a business and operating a business under the hopes that the federal government may not enforce existing law seems like an interesting way to go about starting a business.”

Isaacson recognized a 2009 memo from the U.S. Justice Department that sought to clarify its position on federal enforcement of marijuana in medical states. The Holder, or Ogden, memo, as its referred to, provides formal guidelines for federal prosecutors in medical marijuana states. After stating its commitment to enforcing the federal Controlled Substances Act and particularly against “significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana,” it says: “As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana. … On the other hand, prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority of the Department.”

As for the notion that the group was in it for a profit, Baldori accused the federal government of “selective prosecution” by going after these guys and not anyone else who profit off the marijuana industry.

“Why these guys? It’s a mystery,” Baldori said. “It’s a fucking outrage. Every time I think about it, it makes me sick. This is going to bring nothing but disrespect for the courts, the law and the police. I haven’t run into anybody in this community who isn’t just shocked by it. It’s having the exact opposite effect. I want to live in a community where people do respect the police and are not worried about a secret police.”

To advocacy groups like Americans for Safe Access — which released a report recently called “What’s the Cost?” — the Obama Administration’s track record on protecting patients in medical states is even worse than George W. Bush’s. Since Obama took office in 2008, ASA claims the Justice Department has spent nearly $300 million on “aggressive medical marijuana enforcement,” including more than $1 million to incarcerate Michigan resident Jerry Duval, a medical marijuana patient and organ transplant recipient who will serve 10 years in prison. The group also reports that the Obama Administration will spend more than $10 million on property forfeiture cases involving “those in full compliance with state law.”

“I don’t think there’s any safety for patients or their providers regarding federal attacks against the community,” ASA spokesman Kris Hermes said. “Unfortunately, to some extent it seems fairly random who they target. What’s clear: they are targeting people who are in full compliance with state law despite statements to the contrary by Holder and Obama. Those claims should matter to the American people — it should matter that the president or attorney general are either lying to the American people or aren’t aware of what the Justice Department is doing.”

Hermes said his organization has tracked more than 50 medical marijuana patients or caregivers nationwide who are in federal prison on cannabis-related prosecutions, while over 100 have been prosecuted. Moreover, those people have no opportunity to use a medical defense in court. “Essentially, the government holds all the cards in federal court,” Hermes said.

Isaacson said in response that since the federal government does not recognize medical marijuana, “I don’t believe you’re going to find numbers where the DEA would have dollar amounts under medical marijuana investigations.”

In an effort to draw a clear line in the sand for medical marijuana protections, several members of Congress are supporting bills that direct the federal government to back off medical marijuana patients. The “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013,” sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, D-California, would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to add: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of this subchapter related to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Justin Amash from Michigan is a co-sponsor. Rohrbacher said in a statement that the “bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states’ marijuana laws. It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don’t want to be criminal.” The bill was introduced in April and is co-sponsored by two Republicans and three Democrats.

Speaking out

It’s unclear what any changes in federal policy would have on the Okemos Seven. Who knows — maybe pot will be legal in half of the United States once Basore is out in four years. But now that the dust has settled and five of the seven get acclimated to their new homes, some are taking the opportunity to call on someone or something to hold the federal government accountable.

Robin Schneider, legislative liaison for the National Patients Rights Association, grew up in Haslett and knew some of the defendants since she was “a little kid.” She describes herself as “one of those Republican, libertarian, tea party kind of people. This whole scenario is appalling to me. I really believe the federal government is overreaching in every possible way. … I’m alarmed, really, at the amount of power grabbing at a federal level. People in this community are outraged about this.”

The legacy of the Okemos Seven, depending on which one of them you ask, will either be one of regrettably underestimating the federal government or a courageous fight against it. 

Lance Forsberg told Lansing Online News several weeks ago: “My story is being told primarily because the main thing I was told was to be quiet about it. I am apprehensive to tell the story, but I don’t want any of my fellow citizens to not understand what it means to be in this shade of gray, so to speak. The reason most people aren’t hearing about this is because they’re scared to tell their story. Everybody is told by (the federal government) that if you speak out it just gets worse, if you let anyone know what happened. That’s why I use the term ‘thieves in the night’ — because it’s something they don’t want people to know.”

Truscott, the spokesman for Dennis Forsberg, said, “If the Obama Administration is going to prosecute these kinds of cases, and it’s fully within their right to do so, they should let people know. Obviously, there’s conflicting messages. … Dennis’ situation is kind of a warning to others: Don’t get caught in the trap.”

Basore wanted one last message out before publication, sent via email from prison to his fianc'e: “If Andy B from the magazine asks how I’m feeling about everything you can tell him that I believe my purpose in life is to help end the insane ‘war on drugs’ and that this is just a part of the process.”

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