FLINT, MI – Two Flint marijuana growing facility operators have pleaded to drug-related charges after state attorneys say they were illegally in possession of over 850 marijuana plants.
Their attorneys, however, say the charges highlight the “grey area” in state’s medical marijuana laws.
After police raided the two medical grow facilities on North and South Saginaw streets in Flint in February 2016, State Attorney General Bill Schuette charged Gary Metzger, 66, and Troy Hall, 50, with nine counts each, including:
The pair – both currently free on joint $90,000 personal recognizance bonds – originally faced up to 20 years in prison, each.
However, in a plea agreement on Sept. 6, 2017, state prosecutors agreed to dismiss nine of the drug-related charges if Metzger and Hall each pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of maintaining a drug house at sentencing before Genesee County Chief Judge Richard B. Yuille in November.
The misdemeanor charges carry a maximum penalty of up to two years in prison or a $25,000 fine.
In a 2016 search of the South Saginaw street location on a tip, police found Hall with a key to the building containing 383 plants and 25 pounds of processed marijuana, according to court records.
Hall, a medical marijuana caregiver, told authorities his patients had medical marijuana cards, but he was unable to produce them to authorities and was arrested.
After Hall told them he was in a business partnership with Metzger, a fellow caregiver, police proceeded to search the North Saginaw street location, finding 458 plants and 55 pounds of processed marijuana, according to court records. Staking out the site, they watched as Metzger, who had the key to the North Saginaw location, picked up a U-Haul truck, driving it from an area U-Haul store back to the building on North Saginaw.
Stopping the truck, police found marijuana in the vehicle’s passenger compartment, arrested Metzger, and located 37 marijuana plants and 10 pounds of processed marijuana in the back of the U-Haul.
The men were charged after authorities determined they possessed amounts of marijuana well over limits specified by the Medical Marijuana Act and in violation of public health code, records show.
Enacted in 2008, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act allows primary caregivers to grow up to 12 marijuana plants for a patient, with a limit of five patients per caregiver.
But Hall’s attorney, Kenneth Scott, argued that the guidelines for counting marijuana plants is unclear.
“You may think it’s one plant in a pot, but if they pull it up and the roots are separate, it’s suddenly two plants in a pot and you’re in violation of the law,” Scott said.
Scott also argued that his client was unfairly searched and believed he was in compliance with the law, explaining that Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights conflict with laws pertaining to marijuana.
“I believe my client is law-abiding and intended to follow the law,” said attorney Kenneth Scott on behalf of Hall. “But if you read the marijuana statute, it’s incredibly unclear … Normally, if an officer knocks on your door, you have the right to request them to show a warrant. But if they ask if you’re complying with the medical marijuana law, what do you do? There needs to be much more discussion on this legislation.”
Scott explained that the men truly believed they were in compliance with the law, but because they possessed keys to the building containing the plants and could not produce all documentation, were charged for possession of the hundreds of marijuana plants.
A spokesperson for Schuette’s office could not be reached for comment.
Attorney Frank J. Manley, who represents Metzger in the case, echoed Scott’s sentiments on the fuzziness of Michigan’s marijuana law.
“Marijuana is likely to be legal in the near future and this point would be moot,” Manley said, calling Metzger – a former heating and cooling business owner – a “successful businessman.”
“We’re hoping that courts in the near future examine these laws so that these grey areas do not exist,” Manley said.
Michigan is one of 29 states that have passed measures fully legalizing or decriminalizing medical marijuana, with petitions currently circulating in attempts to place the vote over recreational marijuana on the 2018 ballot.
In late August, the state’s Medical Marijuana Licensing Board suggested all currently operating dispensaries would need to cease operation if they wanted to be eligible for licenses in the future.
Metzger and Hall are scheduled to be sentenced before Yuille on Monday, Nov. 13, at 2 p.m.