TRAVERS CITY, Michigan – Thursday, October, a quiet morning. 6. Inside the Great Lakes Hemp Supplements in Traverse City, a cannabis business that owns CBD products, has a “therapist not a dealer” decal on the window.
Consolation is broken.
“It’s a raid,” shouted Michigan State Police as they stormed through the front door.
“Someone was screaming, ‘state troopers,'” said Megan O’Brien, 26, an office manager who was meeting with a customer in another room. “I walked around the corner and about 12 people came in with guns.”
This is the State Police Cannabis and Tobacco Investigation Division, a special enforcement unit that, in addition to violations of tobacco taxes, targets marijuana-related criminal activity outside the jurisdiction of marijuana regulators.
Police suspect the store is an illegal pharmacy.
Michael Thue, owner of Great Lakes Hemp Supplements, was simultaneously handcuffed and placed in the back seat of a police car at a small marijuana farm and private residence 10 miles away, where he will spend the next five hours. Yes, minus a few bathroom breaks.
Police said Thue’s business violated laws regulating the commercial production and sale of marijuana. According to the search warrant Thue shared with MLive, they are looking for “all evidence to assist in the investigation into narcotics manufacturing and trafficking, continued criminal enterprise, unauthorized cultivation of marijuana, and violations of Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Facility Licensing Act.”
While marijuana is legal to use, it is not legal to sell it commercially for profit outside the licensed market. The state’s Medical Marijuana Act, passed in 2008, has guidelines that allow paramedics to sell marijuana to designated eligible patients.
Thue claims the company operates openly and legally under the Medical Marijuana Act.
Thue’s business sells cannabis and CBD products, helps certify medical cannabis patients, and acts as a “compassion club” for certified cannabis patients. Thue said the company has been in business for years and he believes all activities are legal.
He said looting property “is not how you resolve issues that may disagree with the law”. “I’m very outspoken and very involved in the community, and I’d love to sit down anytime and show them how I run my business if they ask.”
Thue estimated that 40 law enforcement officers were at his residence and business premises.
related: Michigan prepares to step up black market marijuana enforcement
State police confirmed that a search warrant had been served, but declined to comment further, citing an ongoing investigation. Thue has not been charged with any crime.
Seizure records list more than 400 suspected cannabis plants removed from a field, greenhouse and “basement cultivation” at Thue’s residence, in addition to 50 suspected cacti, six bags of suspected psychedelic mushrooms, a rifle, shotgun, 401 Dollar cash, bulk cannabis flowers and stems.
Thue said his growing partner is a Native American church grower and is federally protected from prosecution for growing or possessing cacti or psilocybin mushrooms.
His John Deere tractor was loaded onto a flatbed and seized. Most of the plants were chopped and burned into a pile, leaving a burnt circle on the lawn.
At the store, police seized various CBD and marijuana products, THC bath bombs, salves and massage oils, more suspected marijuana flowers, vaping products, tinctures and another suspected jar of psychedelic mushrooms.
Thue said the marijuana was grown by his father and a friend, and two certified caregivers allowed up to 12 plants per registered patient. Plants that didn’t take into account caregiver restrictions were “tiny” seedlings in 6-inch pots for genetic testing, not consumption, and many were hemp rather than marijuana, Thue said.
On Monday, he met with a state trooper to obtain a copy of the search warrant police failed to leave when they left Thue last week.
“I said, can’t you come and talk to me?” Thue said he asked the police at their meeting. “He’s like, well, that’s going to ruin my investigation. I’ve had it open and running for 13 years…but they’d rather raid and have me handle this with judges and prosecutors than Correct licensing issues.”
Thue said he hopes to open a recreational marijuana dispensary in Traverse City with a partner if the city allows it.
Thue stands outside the Lansing Capitol on Tuesday, Oct. 10. Speakers, music, activists, regulators and business owners spread across lawns to celebrate cannabis and the industry at the Michigan Hemp Harvest Rally on the 11th.
Most in the marijuana community already knew Thue had a run-in with police. He spoke about it publicly on social media.
“Whatever the problem is, paramilitary incursions of marijuana activities are no longer appropriate,” said Jamie Lowell, co-host of the marijuana industry podcast “Jazz Cabbage Cafe.” “In this case, there are a lot of questions about how big the problem really is” and they could have “taken a more practical approach”.
Rick Thompson, who leads the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and co-hosts the podcast with Lowell, said police “have many other options to initiate enforcement, and they don’t need to resort to the 2007 way of doing business.”
“I think Michigan State Police do what Michigan State Police do, and they don’t like hearing agencies tell them to restrain themselves,” Thompson said. “It’s a consistent issue where we’ve seen Michigan State police go beyond what they really need to do.”
Thue took classes and passed tests to get his certification as a medical assistant to better help medical marijuana clients. He said he was “broken” and focused on helping patients rather than upending the licensing market to get rich.
The raid comes amid complaints from many within the cannabis industry that unlicensed cannabis is infiltrating and competing with licensed cannabis.
Brian Hanna, a former CRA marijuana inspector and investigator and former state police criminal analyst, was named acting director of the marijuana licensing agency in September. He said he plans to step up enforcement of illegal marijuana. While Hanna’s role is to enforce the rules within regulated markets, the CRA is also working with state police to conduct investigations into black market marijuana.
related: Cannabis business suspended after duffel bag found
It is unclear whether that relationship contributed to last week’s Traverse City attack.
The CRA this week suspended a 30-day suspension and fined a Detroit medical marijuana dispensary after an inspector observed backpacks and duffel bags full of suspicious unlabeled marijuana in a store in May 2021. Since it doesn’t carry an industry-tracking label, it’s still possible that black market marijuana sneaks into the regulated market. The company has neither denied nor confirmed the allegations.
The issue is handled by the licensing agency, not the police.
Thue believes some of the motives for police raids on his property may have involved marijuana, not marijuana.
Cannabis is a type of cannabis that contains trace amounts of THC, the high-inducing compound in cannabis. Hemp is grown as a commodity and used in a variety of industrial and construction products, but is often used to extract CBD, which is largely unregulated and is believed to have therapeutic properties.
Thue had previously licensed his farm to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to be able to grow 1,100 hemp plants, but that license lapsed this year. He said most of his cannabis farms, which had irrigation systems installed, were empty when police arrived.
While MDARD still issues licenses for hemp farms, the CRA in February took over oversight of any processing, production and sales related to hemp extracts, including CBD. Thue said he started an application to become a cannabis processor but stopped based on wording in the application that indicated CBD was illegal.
“Once legal in Michigan, I would like to process hemp into CBD oil, tincture, food, beverage or animal feed,” a checkbox in the application says. Thue questioned why he would get a license if he still couldn’t legally produce CBD.
When asked about the wording of the cannabis processor application, CRA spokesman David Harnes said the language was removed in September, but he did not immediately comment further on the legality of processing CBD.
“As long as I’ve known people, he’s been in the business,” David Crabill, president of iHemp Michigan, a cannabis-growing trade group, said of Thu after hearing about the raid. “He’s a good guy. He didn’t do anyone any harm. It’s crazy.”
When police poured into Thue’s store, O’Brien, the manager who was there, said she believed the company was legally operating as a clinic rather than a dispensary under medical marijuana laws.
“We do have big vinyl (decals) on our windows that tell people what we do and who we are,” she said. “If at any point we thought we were doing something illegal, I don’t think we would be doing that…
“But at the same time, I was terrified of coming into my workplace. The police told me I needed to find a new job and I was a suspect in all of this.”
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