Less than a month after pleading guilty to drug house charges over medical marijuana butter, a Michigan cop's sudden death has been called a suicide. Sergeant Timothy Bernhardt served in his department for 22 years, but a tip from a postal worker led to the eventual searches of the homes of corrections officers Sergeant Tim Bernhardt, Deputy Michael Frederick, and Deputy Todd VanDoorne, as well as Christine Tennant, the wife of Deputy Brian Tennant. All of them believed at the time that the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act protected their possession and use of medical marijuana butter, according to Huffington Press.
Sergeant Bernhardt quit his career and pleaded guilty to the charges against him, though the Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma told the press that there was never any indication that the marijuana was ever provided to anyone without a medical marijuana card. Bernhardt faced two years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine, according to WOODTV. The sergeant previously held a clean criminal record.
The officers' lawyers also explained that the only drug activity involved in the case involved medical marijuana and the cops had legally obtained medical marijuana cards.
The issue at the center of the arrests was a technicality in the law: Marijuana infused butter is not officially deemed "usable" marijuana under the 2008 law.
After much debate, a Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that marijuana butter was not considered medical marijuana in July of last year, according to Huffington Post. In response to that ruling, in December of last year, the Michigan House voted 100-9 to include products made with resin, including marijuana butter, in the definition of legal, usable medical marijuana. That bill was still in the Michigan Senate at the time of the arrests.
After Sergeant Bernhardt's sudden death, a Kent County Sheriff representative declined to comment, saying in an email to MLIVE, "we typically do not comment on any suicides."
"Tim was the most honorable man I ever met in my life," Bernhardt's wife wrote of her late husband just following his suicide. "Please pray for peace in our family."
On the day that Bernhardt pleaded guilty, he was embraced by deputies waiting outside the courtroom, a moment that the attorney said speaks volumes about his character. His supporters say he was proud of his service to his community and loved his family.
Michigan marijuana advocates are making strides. In October, a Michigan appeals court ruled that employees fired over medical marijuana still qualify for unemployment benefits. Soon, all Michiganders will likely be able to make full use of marijuana resin edibles, including marijuana butter. In December, the remaining Michigan cops who took plea deals will be sentenced, but Sergeant Bernhardt's suicide will always remain one of many tragedies, according to advocates, in the history of Michigan medical marijuana.