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Komorn Law Victory - Detroit Judge Throws Out $1M MMFLA Marijuana Case

Michael Komorn

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6 Defendants, 3 law firms, a "million dollars" of marijuana. The headlines write themselves. Were we in for a fight to the death? Not with me on the case. Other counsel were ready to fight this in circuit court, it was my idea that we should try to get this entire case dismissed at the district court level.

The plan worked, all charges dismissed. The judge was also very smart, writing a complete thoughtful opinion so that if this case does get appealed, the issues will be clear. 


Detroit Judge Throws Out $1M Marijuana Case 'In The Interest Of Fairness'

Dustin Blitchok , Benzinga Staff Writer   
July 31, 2018 12:19pm   Comments
Detroit Judge Throws Out $1M Marijuana Case 'In The Interest Of Fairness'

Felony charges against six people arrested in the raid of a Detroit marijuana grow operation with a reported $1 million in plants were dismissed Tuesday by a judge who said the facility was within the bounds of its temporary state license.

The building at 4473 W. Jefferson Ave. is owned by former NBA player-turned-cannabis entrepreneur Al Harrington, who’s said he believes the raid amounts to harassment of a minority-owned business.

The grow op’s certificate of occupancy from the city stated the intent for a greenhouse at the site, and the operation holds a temporary Class C license under Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act allowing up to 1,500 plants, said 36th District Court Judge Kenneth King.



'In The Interest Of Fairness'

“In the interest of fairness and in the spirit of always trying to do the right thing, this court is left with no other choice but to dismiss this matter,” the judge said.

The case had been set for a preliminary exam Tuesday. King said he expected his ruling to be appealed regardless of whether it favored the prosecution or defense. 

“Over 1,000” plants were found in the raid, according to the Wayne County prosecutor’s office. 

King said he stayed up until 3:30 a.m. reading briefs in the case and sorting out the web of acronyms tied to Michigan’s medical marijuana law and the “seed-to-sale” tracking and tax, regulation and licensing system for marijuana growers and dispensaries that took effect late last year.

'Police Are Doing Their Job'

“I don’t believe the police had any malintent. The police are doing their job,” King said. “I think the real blame lies on the documents that were submitted and someone didn’t pay close attention to what the defendants were asking for.”

Prosecutors contended that Harrington’s business wasn't licensed to grow marijuana, King said.

“That kind of leads me to the burning question: if you’re able to dispense but you can’t grow it, how are you supposed to get it? Where are you supposed to get it from?”

Michigan voters will decide on a ballot question Nov. 6 that would legalize and tax recreational marijuana for users 21 and older. Medical marijuana was legalized in Michigan via a ballot proposal in 2008.


“That kind of leads me to the burning question: if you’re able to dispense but you can’t grow it, how are you supposed to get it? Where are you supposed to get it from?” says 36th District Court Judge Kenneth King. Photo by Dustin Blitchok.

Floating Body Reportedly Led To Raid

All six defendants in the case — Cotea Jones, Jeanne Walsh, Curtis Williams, Travis Davison, James Frazier and Jabari Currie — were charged with delivery or manufacture of 45 kilograms or more of marijuana or 200 or more plants — a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Jones, Williams, Davison and Frazier were also charged with conspiracy to deliver or manufacture marijuana, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. 

All charges were dismissed Tuesday.

Officers seized marijuana and held employees at gunpoint during the May 29 raid, according to Harrington and his partners in the Denver-based marijuana company Viola Brands.

All cannabis at the site was taken, the business’ accounts were frozen and employees’ vehicles were seized, according to the company.

Detroit police didn't return multiple calls for comment on this story.

Officer Dan Donakowski told The Detroit News at the time of the raid that a motor patrol investigating other cases in the area smelled pot and informed Detroit’s Gang Intel Unit and the U.S. Border Patrol.

The scent of marijuana was evident near the warehouse when a Benzinga reporter walked by last week.

The potential crime being investigated near Harrington’s warehouse was a body floating in the Detroit River four days before the marijuana raid took place, according to a July 23 story on Marijuana.com.

Benzinga staff writer Javier Hasse contributed to this report.

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The marijuana grow facility, right, owned by former NBA player Al Harrington at 4473 W. Jefferson Ave. in southwest Detroit that was raided May 29. Photo by Dustin Blitchok.




Read more about how this all started. Why is Detroit raiding businesses that they licensed??



Detroit Police Gang Unit Raids Black-Owned, -Operated Marijuana Warehouse and Arrest 6


When a body was spotted on May 29, 2018, floating in the Detroit River, US Border Control officers were investigating a potential crime.

Arriving in front of a warehouse the size of a city block in Detroit’s West Vernor neighborhood, the customs officials asked the building’s occupants to access the riverfront where the body was last seen. The response was, “Of course.”

Four days later, the occupants in the same building had another group of uniformed visitors — this time not as polite.

Upon seeing members of Detroit’s Police Gang Intel Unit, Cortea Jones gathered the paperwork and permits corresponding to the legal marijuana facility. Jones, a professional with a master’s degree in administrative science from Fairleigh Dickinson University, walked out to meet the Detroit police.

“The police grabbed her, threw her to the ground – the papers went flying – and held a gun to her head,” said Wanda James, owner of Denver-based Simply Pure dispensaries and a close friend of Jones.

Five additional people at the facility received the same treatment, which included “handcuffs and guns to the head,” James told Marijuana.com. “At no point did the cops call the city to ask if the grow site was legal.”

Six people were arrested and spent four days in jail before being arraigned. Detroit news programs touted a “million-dollar pot bust” and referred to the site as a high-tech, sophisticated operation. Detroit police Sgt. Gary Johnson said there must have been “a lot of man-hours and a lot of money to put this together.”

He was right.

“Of course it was sophisticated and yes, a lot of money went into it. They’re growing clean, legal medical cannabis for a reputable businessman — Al Harrington,” James said.

Harrington, a retired 16-season NBA player and founder of Viola Brands, said he was shocked that the police imagined the grow facility was anything but legal cannabis.

“It’s openly obvious in the neighborhood; high-tech and spotlessly clean. The 95-car parking lot with handicap spaces and a motorized gate should have been a dead giveaway,” Harrington told Marijuana.com. “Yet they burst in with their AR-15s at the ready.”

Harrington said that Viola Extracts had a temporary cannabis business permit from the city of Detroit, and that the grow facility had been inspected and approved by the city. A press representative from the city’s Buildings Safety Engineering and Environmental Department wrote in an email that, “This business was not granted a zoning approval as a growth facility because the City of Detroit does not yet have zoning in place for grow facilities.”

The Detroit Police Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs would not confirm if Viola Extracts had been granted a state license. A spokesperson said that medical marijuana applications are confidential.

“We worked for over a year-and-a-half to get every single piece of paperwork done properly,” Harrington said. “Our goal is to bring well-paying jobs into Detroit for people of color, so we took every precaution to make sure all the details were in place.”

He said the incident speaks to a larger issue: The disproportionate impact of prohibition on people of color and their difficulty in entering the legal cannabis industry.

“The cannabis industry was established on the backs of black people, yet we’re having a hard time being accepted into it, not to mention that we’re still victims of over-policing and mass incarceration,” Harrington said.

An American Civil Liberties Union report notes that despite roughly equal usage rates, African-Americans  are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana. In Detroit, cannabis makes up 9.3 percent of all arrests, according to Michigan State Police data.

“Raids like this can set people back for a long time, maybe destroy them forever – especially people of color,” Harrington said. “The six people arrested at our facility, five of whom are college graduates by the way, even had their cars impounded.”

James, a businesswoman who has worked in politics, said she and her colleagues are trying to make it better for “African-Americans to exist in the cannabis space without these kinds of attacks that can permanently ruin them. Not everyone has politicians and rich folks on speed dial.”

The 50,000-square-foot building now stands empty after police confiscated more than a thousand pounds of harvest-ready plants and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cutting-edge equipment. Harrington said the site was meant to be a cultivation, manufacturing and retail outlet for medical marijuana.

“We want to provide good jobs in the neighborhood and create community to encourage people to be all they can be. For the moment, our goal is to get our people out of harm’s way,” Harrington said.

Harrington couldn’t discuss the case, but said he is hoping to have the charges dropped. The next court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, July 31, 2018.

Either way, Harrington said he and his colleagues are in it for the long haul.

“We’re not discouraged,” he said. “We’re blessed and we’re going to keep fighting. No one is going to stop us from coming to Detroit.”


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