'We'll see'

By Andy Balaskovitz
JoAnn Forsberg. Andy Balaskovitz/City Pulse

Families of the Okemos 7 react to recent federal news related to marijuana policy

Thursday, Sept. 5 — JoAnn Forsberg and her family aren’t exactly rejoicing over the U.S. Justice Department’s announcement last week that it will largely leave it to states to regulate their own medical or recreational marijuana policies.

You might say there’s already been a breach of trust on that front.

“I tell people: ‘Please, please do not trust anything being said by (Attorney General Eric) Holder or (President) Obama,” Forsberg said Wednesday at a marijuana legalization rally she helped organize at the Capitol. “(The federal government) can do what they want in states.”

Forsberg is the wife and mother of Dennis and Lance Forsberg, respectively, who were each sentenced to three years in prison for federal conspiracy and manufacturing marijuana charges. Dennis and Lance Forsberg were two people in a group known as the Okemos 7, which started a collective medical marijuana growing operation in Okemos in 2010.

While the group was within the number of legally allowed plants under state law, they were investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and prosecuted in federal court. That they believed to be following state law didn’t matter, as marijuana is still a schedule I drug federally.

The operation started two years after 63 percent of Michigan voters passed a statewide medical marijuana law and one year after a Justice Department memo attempted to clarify the federal government’s enforcement of marijuana in medical states. The 2009 “Holder Memo” provided formal guidelines for federal prosecutors in medical marijuana states that generally targeted large traffickers and those outside of “clear and unambiguous” compliance with state law.

On Thursday, a new Justice Department memo outlined eight specific areas the federal government will enforce, including marijuana sales to minors, illegal gang activity and violence related to marijuana growing and distributing. Outside of that, the memo expects states to regulate its own policies, including those related to production, distribution and possession.

While many marijuana advocates nationwide cheered the memo, it still gives pause to JoAnn Forsberg, who believes she has no reason to trust the federal government.

Jenna Corey, who was also at Wednesday’s rally at the Capitol, is connected to three others convicted in the Okemos 7. Her brother, Kyle; her father, Dennis; and her fiancé, Ryan Basore, were all sentenced to prison for their role in the operation.

“We’ll see,” is how Jenna Corey said Basore reacted to last week’s memo. “We saw it happen in 2009, but look what happened.”

JoAnn Forsberg is far more excited that U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, is behind a bill that would give judges more discretion when considering mandatory minimum sentencing. Leahy’s committee is also scheduled to hold a hearing next week on conflicts between state and federal marijuana policies.

“He’s the greatest politician we have today,” Forsberg said.

For now, though, Forsberg’s biggest concern is the health of her husband, whom she’s been married to for 40 years. Dennis Forsberg has been in a federal medical center in Butner, N.C. for the past month. JoAnn is moving Saturday to an apartment within 10 minutes of the facility to be closer to Dennis.

“It’s been a horrible adjustment,” she said of the past month for Dennis.

Over 350 people have signed a petition calling for amnesty for the Okemos 7 and all first-time marijuana offenders. On Wednesday, over 50 people were at the Capitol by noon for a rally organized by JoAnn Forsberg. While her husband and son have been in prison, the fight hasn’t stopped.

“We just don’t want to have this happen to anyone else,” she said. “The emotional pain of the last three years I would not wish upon anybody.”