DEA raids Oakland Co. medical marijuana centers

It’s unclear if actions are part of fed crackdown on pot business

Drug agents executed search warrants at two medical marijuana facilities in Oakland County on Tuesday, but it was unclear whether it signaled a new federal crackdown against the state’s fledgling industry.

The raids were part of a wide-ranging operation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which dispatched agents in eight coordinated raids of homes and businesses in Detroit, Novi, Commerce Township, Walled Lake and Romulus.

Several of the raids involved businesses and properties owned by controversial businessman Romel Casab, who has said he co-owns the long-shuttered Packard Motor Car Co. plant in Detroit.

The search warrants were sealed in federal court in Detroit and the DEA declined to comment beyond confirming the raids. It was unclear whether agents were targeting the medical marijuana industry or investigating other alleged crimes.

But the raids were focused in Oakland County, ground zero in the battle between medical marijuana clinics and law enforcement officers. Last summer, following the arrests of 15 people on various marijuana charges, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper and others said medical marijuana clinics were operating in a “clear abuse of Michigan marijuana exemptions.”

“If people weren’t already chilled to do business in Oakland County, then what were they thinking?” said Matthew Abel, a Detroit-area attorney who specializes in medical marijuana defense cases.

DEA group supervisor Andrew Eiseman declined comment about what prompted the raids or what items were being seized by agents. He also declined comment about whether the raids are part of a broader crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries.

“I can’t comment on anything,” he said. “It’s an ongoing investigation.”

Casab could not be reached for comment Tuesday and his lawyer did not return calls.

The raids marked arguably the highest-profile law-enforcement action since voters approved the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act in 2008.

The state law approved use of the drug for people with qualifying debilitating medical conditions and allowed patients certified by a doctor to use marijuana. It also lets caregivers grow and provide marijuana for up to five patients.

Facility had license

A DEA official confirmed that agents executed search warrants at Casab’s home in Commerce Township and his Caregivers of America marijuana facility on 12 Mile in Novi.

The DEA raided another Caregivers facility on Decker Road in Walled Lake. The building is owned by 1020 Decker LLC, a firm headed by Casab lawyer Barry A. Steinway of Bingham Farms, state records indicate.

Walled Lake issued a medical marijuana dispensary license to 1020 Decker LLC on Aug. 31, 2010, under terms of a local ordinance.

“The feds say it’s illegal, but the city issued them a license,” Abel said. “That makes them less of a rogue if they have a license.”

The building featured a large mounted sign, “Caregivers of America — Uniting Caregivers and their Patients” and a colorful red and yellow banner nearby exclaimed “Now Open.”

Harry Sturm, an electrical engineer, works in the Caregivers building. He said the marijuana growing operation was separate from a small office storefront where shoppers could buy pipes, bongs and other paraphernalia.

“You had to get buzzed in (a locked door),” he said. “And to buy anything, you had to show them your card.”

The shop was closed Tuesday, along with the building, and a person answering the telephone — after hearing a reporter was on the other end — said, “You have a nice day” and hung up.

Armed DEA agents, their weapons holstered, were spotted exiting the building periodically before returning inside without speaking to reporters. A U-Haul van was parked inside a chained gate area, which backed up to what appeared to be storage.

A disappointed Patty Weir, 48, of Wixom was turned away Tuesday when she showed up at the Caregivers Walled Lake store to purchase some marijuana products for her constant back pain.

Her sister, Colleen Moran of South Lyon, had made a purchase at the address about a week ago, Weir said. Both have state-issued medical marijuana cards.

“No medication, no therapy is helping me,” said Weir, who recently had back surgery. “This is my last resort and now they have taken that away. I don’t even smoke. I just eat some of the marijuana candy to get some relief.”

Businessman’s home raided

The Novi medical marijuana facility is in a nondescript building in an isolated area of 12 Mile, west of Novi Road. There were no banners or signs identifying it as a medical marijuana facility.

A lone Novi police car was parked in the gravel driveway. A police officer kept reporters and others off the property.

Unlike Walled Lake, Novi does not license medical marijuana dispensaries.

Also raided Tuesday: Bayside Sports Grille on East Walled Lake Drive in Walled Lake; Coliseum Bar & Grill strip club on Eight Mile in Detroit; a commercial site on East Seven Mile in Detroit; and a commercial building on Northline Road in Romulus.

The Walled Lake sports bar, commercial property on Seven Mile and Detroit strip club are owned by Walled Lake businessman Johni Semma, whose home overlooking Walled Lake also was raided by agents Tuesday.

Agents hauled away Semma’s 2001 Harley Davidson from the Novi marijuana facility owned by Casab, along with a Ferrari sports car and 1928 Studebaker.

Casab made headlines last fall when he sued a local art gallery that removed a mural at the Packard plant reportedly painted by famed graffiti artist Banksy.

Casab, a land speculator with varied business interests, is listed on state records as resident agent of Caregivers of America LLC. He formed the company in November 2009.

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