Michigan medical marijuana patient fees are helping finance aggressive enforcement efforts in the Detroit area, where local sheriff’s departments spent more than $600,000 in the state grant funding.
Law enforcement officials told The Detroit News the grants have helped them crack down on criminals operating outside the law. Departments have used the money for overtime pay, raid gear, dispensary stakeouts and vehicles used to haul contraband pot.
Legislators created the grant program two years ago, permitting sheriffs to use extra money that had accumulated in the state’s medical marijuana fund for enforcement, education or communication related to the 2008 law approved by voters.
Grant availability is based on the number of marijuana registry cards issued in a county. While many sheriffs did not apply this year, the Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county offices spent a combined $618,186 between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15.
In 2015, four of 83 county sheriffs applied for grants, followed by 18 this year.
Michael Loepp, a spokesman for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs that runs the program, said more counties are anticipated to participate in the current fiscal year.
“We continue to work with the counties to streamline the grant process,” said Loepp. “We know there is a short statutory turnaround time for the submission of applications and getting the final contracts to the counties so they can spend the funds in 2017.”
The program’s opponents said it’s wrong for the state to use mandatory patient and caregiver registration fees to perpetuate a “war on drugs” that can trap the same patients who are supposed to be protected.
“I really don’t think it’s appropriate to fund law enforcement on the backs of medical marijuana patients,” said Matt Abel, medical marijuana attorney. “It’s really a hidden tax on patients.”