Annette Shattuck, a self-described soccer mom from Michigan, and her husband Dale believed they were following the letter of the law when they started the process of setting up a medical marijuana dispensary in St. Clair, Mich. They even went so far as contacting the local sheriff’s Drug Task Force (DTF) to have it inspect her dispensary. But instead of showing up to inspect the shop, the DTF raided the Shattuck’s home, ransacked it, charged them with possession with intent to distribute, and seized much of their property.
More than 18 months later, the district attorney dropped all criminal charges against the Shattucks. However, as the Washington Post reported yesterday, they are still struggling to get their property back.
Michigan voters passed the Michigan Medical Marijuana Initiative in 2008 to allow the use of medical marijuana by individuals with a prescription. That law was then amended in 2013 under SB660 to reschedule pharmaceutical marijuana as a Schedule II drug and better regulate the medical marijuana industry in the state. Seeing an opportunity, the Shattucks decided to open a dispensary.
When the Shattucks started setting up a medical marijuana dispensary, they “went above and beyond” to try to comply with the law. They contacted the local planning commission, had the town building inspector check the property and the chairman of the planning commission publicly thanked them for working within the legal framework. As the Post reported:
According to court documents, the Shattucks even went so far as to call the local sheriff’s Drug Task Force to invite them to inspect the property and verify their compliance with the law…
But the Task Force never inspected the property. Instead, acting on an anonymous tip that marijuana was being sold at the location, agents of the St. Clair County Drug Task Force conducted a number of “controlled buys,” where informants with medical marijuana cards entered the dispensary and purchased marijuana under the guise of medical use. That gave them enough probable cause to execute a raid.
Michigan’s existing voter-approved medical marijuana law doesn’t address the legal status of dispensaries, leaving room for conflicting interpretations.
The Shattucks property was seized under Michigan’s asset forfeiture laws, which allow property to be seized without charging or convicting the owner of a crime. Michigan received a D- grade in the Institute for Justice’s report, Policing for Profit, because the state allows law enforcement to keep up to 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds and has poor protections for innocent property owners.
According the Post:
Annette Shattuck says that since the charges have been dismissed, the Drug Task Force has returned some of her property. But much of it is damaged. Electronic items are missing power cords and remotes. Her and her husband’s phones were smashed. They returned her husband’s guns and the safe he stored it in, but they didn’t return the key. Two of the kids’ insurance cards are missing. Shattuck says her marriage and birth certificates haven’t been returned, and since the Task Force does not itemize seized documents in its paperwork, it has no record of taking them in the first place.
In 2015, Michigan’s governor signed a seven-bill package to reform the state’s civil forfeiture laws. The bills increased the burden of proof from preponderance of the evidence to clear and convincing evidence, and increased reporting requirements. Annette’s case highlights the need for greater forfeiture reform in Michigan.