Sheriff’s department applying for grant to assist in medical marijuana education

This bag contain 2.5 ounces of marijuana seized by the St. Clair County Drug Task Force. The St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department is attempting to get a grant that would help fund the enforcement and education of the medical marijuana laws. (Mark Rummel | Times Herald)

This bag contain 2.5 ounces of marijuana seized by the St. Clair County Drug Task Force. The St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department is attempting to get a grant that would help fund the enforcement and education of the medical marijuana laws. (Mark Rummel | Times Herald)

By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

LANSING – State dollars allocated to the enforcement and education of medical marijuana laws could be coming to St. Clair County.

The St. Clair County Sheriff Department is in line to get nearly $49,000 if a grant application is approved by the county commission.

The grant is from a one-time, pre-allocated state fund that goes toward the enforcement and education of medical marijuana laws. Sheriff Tim Donnellon said the grant will be used for equipment and wages for Drug Task Force members who already meet with groups for educational purposes.

Drug Task Force Sgt. Jim Spadafore said most of the agency’s marijuana busts are of card holders who are illegally selling marijuana to non-card holders.

The St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department is attempting to get a grant that would help fund the enforcement and education of the medical marijuana laws. (Mark Rummel | Times Herald)

The St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department is attempting to get a grant that would help fund the enforcement and education of the medical marijuana laws. (Mark Rummel | Times Herald)

The agency seized 1,150 marijuana plants and 95.1 pounds of processed marijuana from allegedly illegal medical marijuana grow operations in 2014.

“There are a certain amount of people that try to hide behind the medical marijuana laws to make a profit,” he said. “We’ve come in contact with only 15 growers with minor infractions where they were one plant over on their plant count. Those growers are compliant and take action on their minor violations.”

St. Clair County had 1,572 registered medical marijuana patients in 2014, according to state data. That number is down from 2013 when 2,121 card holders were registered in the county.

Donnellon said the majority of the grant would be used for wages. It would also go toward purchasing an enclosed trailer, evidence bags and rental equipment for large grow operations. Rental equipment includes tractors, backhoes and other heavy duty equipment that is used to dig out large marijuana plants in order to preserve them as evidence.

“Deputies have to be paid to talk to groups,” Donnellon said. “There are a lot of different times when we are requested by townships to talk at meetings about some of the laws that go into medical marijuana. With the DTF budget shrinking, this will help.”

The task force operates on a budget of about $1.6 million. Five years ago the budget was about $1.7 million.

The drug task force budget is completely funded through a county tax. Undersheriff Tom Buckley said the budget has decreased the past few years because of the shrinking property values.

“It will help give us more resources to investigate other marijuana cases,” Spadafore said. “It helps because sometimes these investigations can be lengthy and use a lot of manpower.”

A portion of the grant also would go toward covering the wages of other law enforcement agencies that assisted the drug task force in surveillance and other duties.

NumbersChris Lindsey, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the grant sounds good, but added that he is hesitant to believe the funding will go toward educating users on medical marijuana laws.

“It’s a good idea in theory, but the track record of police on medical marijuana laws is not stellar,” Lindsey said. “(Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs) makes sure people know how the laws work. Law enforcement is more about busting people — it’s not really the best agency for educating medical marijuana laws.”

While the grant has been pre-approved, the sheriff department still has to present the details to the St. Clair County Board of Commissioners on Thursday for approval to apply.

“We haven’t technically applied for the grant,” Donnellon said. “We’ve done all the footwork ahead of time to let them know what we can get. We are pretty well set with the state. We’ll basically tell the board, ‘If you guys give us the blessing, we will follow through with a formal request.'”

The grant would not require any local dollars to match.

Law enforcement agencies within all 83 counties in Michigan are eligible to receive funding to be used for the education and enforcement of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 3, 2015)

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