Michigan woman charged with handing out pot to “influence” voters

The owner of a Lansing medical marijuana clinic has been charged with violating Michigan election law after she allegedly offered free pot to patients who registered to vote, authorities say. If true, it’s certainly a novel way to influence voters. Shekina Pena, the 34-year-old owner of Your Healthy Choice Clinic, was charged with one count of trying to influence voters with a “valuable consideration.”

Michigan Election Law prohibits the provision of anything of value in order to induce or influence the manner of voting and the offense is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

State officials don’t seem to care in this case whether voter registration hits an all-time high.

“It’s cut and dry, it is illegal, it’s against the law,” said John Sellek, a spokesman for the Michigan attorney general, “you can’t take money, or something of value and try to pay someone off to vote a certain way, that’s just not what we do here.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office says Pena encouraged newly registered voters to support certain Lansing City Council candidates based on their position on regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.
Although Pena had said in July that the offer was not intended to lure patients or buy their votes, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson argued that Pena’s intent was clear. “They offered their customers marijuana in exchange for voter registration. They also supplied a slate of their preferred candidates. This goes beyond election shenanigans.”

Matt Newburg, Pena’s attorney, sees it differently, CBS affiliate WLNS reports.

“There was an attempt to raise awareness to get people to the polls but I don’t know that she registered people to vote,” said Newburg, “and do you know whether or not she told people who to vote for? I don’t believe so. She did not do that.”

CNN reports that Pena was released on bond and a court date has not yet been set.

Michigan voters approved a law legalizing medical marijuana in 2008.  A posting on the clinic’s website says it is no longer dispensing marijuana in light of a recent state court ruling that medical marijuana cannot be sold by private shops.

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