What do pot and heroin have in common?

Nothing, says poet John Sinclair — which is why he is suing


MONDAY, Feb. 4 — John Sinclair is famous for many things. He’s a poet, civil rights activist and, certainly not least, one of Michigan’s leading potheads.

His conviction to 10 years in prison in 1969 for selling two joints to an undercover agent became a cause célèbre, attracting John Lennon, Bob Seger and Stevie Wonder to his aid.

Now, 50 years later, Sinclair has a new cause. He is suing the Michigan Board of Pharmacy to erase marijuana from the state’s list of controlled substances. If he is successful, pot would no longer be in the same category in Michigan as drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

“I want every aspect, every trace, every tinge of these illegal laws taken off the books entirely,” Sinclair said in an interview. “The government has no business with what’s going on inside our heads. I’ve been victimized by these rotten motherfucker.s This list will just be something else to keep fucking with us.”

Sinclair’s conviction was overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court, which ruled his punishment unconstitutional. The landmark case also barred the government from using electronic surveillance without a warrant..

Joining Sinclair are the the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, the Michigan Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, pharmacist Paul Littler, autism researcher Christian Bogner and medical marijuana patient Josey Scoggin. No hearings have been scheduled.

Attorney Michael Komorn said the placement of marijuana as a Schedule I substance in Michigan — formally defined in the Public Health Code as a “high potential” for abuse and no accepted medical benefits — is entirely contradictory to the formation of both the medical marijuana industry and the recent passage of Proposal 1.

“Marijuana can no longer be considered harmful,” Komorn wrote. “Because of its contraband status, the mere suspected presence of marijuana is sufficient to establish probable cause to raid citizens’ homes and forfeit their property. Under current case law, there is probable cause to search every single medical marijuana cardholder.”

While Proposal 1 effectively legalized the adult possession and recreational use of marijuana, Komorn said its ranking within the Public Health Code could open the door for unwarranted police enforcement. He also contended Child Protective Services could lean on the list to make custody decisions for pot smoking parents.

“The continued placement on the public health code defines marijuana as a narcotic or some type of dangerous substance,” Komorn added. “It completely contradicts the regulatory structure that allows for medical marijuana. It’s not a dangerous substance and needs to be removed from that list immediately.”

Komorn, however, couldn’t offer a single example of an unlawful search and seizure since the passage of Proposal 1. Sinclair also recognized the lawsuit could be more a symbolic gesture than a mechanism for meaningful change. For him, it’s more about state recognition that the board’s scheduling structure is flawed.

“I’m just a guy who wants everything off the books,” Sinclair said. “I also believe all drugs should be legal.”

Ingham County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jason Fergusonsaid marijuana’s Schedule I listing in the public health code has no bearing on any actual enforcement efforts from a police standpoint. The presence of marijuana, accordingly, is no longer a mechanism that can be used for searches and seizures, he emphasized.

“If there’s an odor of marijuana, that does not indicate that we have a crime,” Ferguson added. “It can trigger an investigation for the driver for being under the influence. In the past, it would trigger a search or a seizure or some type of criminal investigation but now that it’s legal, we can no longer use that as a basis for a search.”

Still, Komorn and Sinclair voiced concerns about whether that lawful treatment would extend statewide.

“When it’s in the public health code, it’s still being enforced by the police community,” Komorn maintained.

The lawsuit also takes aim at Pharmacy Board Chairwoman Nichole Cover, who also serves on the state’s Medical Marihuana Licensing Board. Komorn argued that her dueling roles are incompatible with one another. The pharmacy board shuns marijuana while the licensing board is actively working to promote the market.

“The state of Michigan is now licensing an entire industry based on the medical use of a substance that it criminalizes for having no acceptable medical use, even under medical supervision,” Komorn added. “The absurdity of it causes grave constitutional harm. Michigan is violating its own Controlled Substance Act.”

Cover didn’t return a call. A spokesman for the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Kelly Rossman-McKinney, spokeswoman for newly elected Attorney General Dana Nessel, said her office is preparing to respond to the complaint but declined additional comment.

Michigan NORML board member Rick Thompson said marijuana’s remaining presence on the controlled substance list could still cause confusion for law enforcement. He said it’s incumbent for the state legislature to adjust the public health code regardless. This lawsuit will simply force their hand into motion, he suggested.

“It’s technically no longer applicable,” Thompson added. “It hasn’t been since 2008 and it needs to change. We would get the runaround if we tried to pursue this in any other way. This will just put some additional weight on the scales of justice, and I fully anticipate this measure to succeed. I’m confident in our new attorney general.”


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