Feb. 2 2011 12:00 AM

Two caregivers charged with violating federal pot laws for grow operation in Mason

Two Lansing-area men face federal marijuana charges in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, yet the lawyer for one of the defendants says the men were in compliance with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.

The lawyer, Bob Baldori, said that the number of plants that were seized was within state law because of the number of caregivers who were growing at the location.

Randall Lloyd Darling, 24, and Joseph David Johnson each face counts of growing more than 100 marijuana plants, according to court documents. Johnson is in his 20s, Baldori said.

The charges come with a five-year minimum prison sentence. Warrants were issued for Darling and Johnson on Jan. 20. Both are awaiting pretrial hearings.

Baldori, who represents Johnson, believes both defendants were within the state’s medical marijuana law. While Baldori said the DEA confiscated more than 200 plants from a grow operation in Mason, he added that Johnson and Darling are both patients and caregivers with the maximum-allowed five patients. Under state law, each can grow up to 72 plants and possess 15 ounces of usable product. It is also Baldori’s understanding that other caregivers were using the house as a growing site.

“These kids have not broken any Michigan laws,” Baldori said. “There were enough patients and caregivers to justify the plants.”

Attempts to reach Darling’s attorney, Jack Vogl, were unsuccessful.

Special Agent Rich Isaacson, a spokesman from the DEA’s Detroit offices, confirmed that the DEA is involved with the investigation, but he declined to give details.

U.S. District Attorney Rene Shekmer did not return calls for comment.

In a separate incident, the DEA raided a growing facility at 2630 Jolly Oak Road in Okemos on Nov. 30, seizing more than 400 plants. No charges have surfaced from that incident.

Growing just one cannabis plant is in violation of federal law, regardless of state law.

An Oct. 19, 2009, memo from U.S. Deputy Attorney General David Ogden offers guidance for federal prosecutors in medical marijuana states. It says a “core priority” for the U.S. Justice Department is targeting “significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana. … “

As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws,” the memo reads.

Matt Newburg, who is representing one of the growers involved with the Okemos raid, said while Johnson and Darling violated federal law, a marijuana debate will likely ensue.

“The merits (of the indictment) will be argued later on,” Newburg said. “Clearly, they (the DEA) are active.”