Michigan Medical Marijuana Caregiver's Conviction Upheld In Appeals Court

Dawn Papple

A Michigan appeals panel upheld a lower court's conviction of 47-year-old medical marijuana caregiver Alenna Marie Rocafort. In September of 2012, police raided a house next to Rocafort's Kentwood home that she was using for her medical marijuana caregiver operation and seized 5.6 pounds of marijuana. The amount of marijuana seized, the courts found, exceeded the amount of usable marijuana she was legally allowed to possess for her medical marijuana patients. Rocafort argued that the marijuana was not usable because it was in the drying process, but the courts disagreed, even though she intended to use the dried plants to make hash oil.

Michigan state law allows caregivers the right to grow and possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana per patient, according to court documents. No one disputes that Rocafort was a registered caregiver under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, but the defendant would have only been permitted to have 15 ounces of usable marijuana total for herself and five patients.

"There is no dispute that defendant was a caregiver under the (Michigan Medical Marihuana Act) and that she was registered to provide marijuana to five patients," the appeals panel said. "The trial court stated that the sole issue with regard to defendant's motion (to dismiss) was the fact that she had 5.6 pounds of harvested marijuana, which, if that marijuana were usable, exceeded the amount of usable marijuana defendant was allowed to have..."

— MichiganCPR (@MichiganCPR) January 12, 2016

— Ohio Rights Group (@OhioRightsGroup) January 11, 2016

One voice of dissent was heard among the appeals judges; Judge Cynthia Stephens wrote that she disagreed with the majority's conclusion. Stephens says that the marijuana was not definitively usable at the time of the raid.

"I would conclude that the marijuana that was in the 'drying process' or that which was 'pretty dry' or 'dry enough' or 'largely dried' did not constitute usable marihuana within the meaning of the statute and was therefore, insufficient evidence upon which to convict defendant," Stephens wrote in her dissent statement, indicating that Michigan lawmakers have actually differentiated between marijuana and usable marijuana. "Notably, usable marihuana does not include 'all parts of the plant... growing or not' or 'every... preparation of the plant or its seeds or resin."

The case raid occurred at an unoccupied house in Kentwood, Michigan, where Rocafort grew the medical marijuana plants. Rocafort was both a registered patient and a registered caregiver under MMMA. The police had discovered 34 marijuana plants. The defense witness said he did not believe that the marijuana was adequately dried to be considered usable marijuana under the law. The medical marijuana case, according to WZZM News, ultimately hinged on how long it takes for marijuana to actually dry before it could be considered usable. The Kent county judge allowed the case to proceed, and Rocafort was found guilty by a jury over a year later of manufacturing marijuana and maintaining a drug house.

— MarijuanaDaily News (@MarijuanaDailyN) January 12, 2016

"There are a number of factors that determine the drying rate of a harvest of marijuana. For starters, how big are the buds? Bigger buds take longer to dry. Were the buds cut from the plant and then dried, or was the plant chopped down and hung upside down? The later takes much longer to dry. What was the temperature of the room the marijuana was being dried in? What was the humidity level? How much air was being blown around by the fans? Were there even fans? There's a lot of factors at play, so to say that one standard applies across the board is a claim that is not based in science, and in the case of Ms. Rocafort, it's also not based on compassion."

— Reform Marijuana Law (@reforml) December 12, 2015

[Image via Mich. Dept. of Corrections]