Northern Express articles trigger raid on medical marijuana grower
By Anne Stanton 8/24/09
About two weeks after appearing on the cover of Northern Express with his lush marijuana plants, Archie Kiel sat among the plants on his balcony chatting with a Kalkaska County Commissioner.
They noticed a helicopter flying low over the house -- so low that his plants started shaking. Kiel was about to call the police to complain when the police came to him. Police cars filled his driveway and about seven Traverse Narcotics Team officers walked up to his open door.
Kiel, who decided to go public in the Northern Express July 27 issue as a caregiver or supplier to medical marijuana patients, was about to be raided.
They walked up with their hands on their guns and said they were checking into the fact that I was an illegal caregiver with too many plants, Kiel said.
But the raid last Thursday was unlike anything anyone could recall in Michigan.
Kiel said the TNT officers were generally respectful after ascertaining that he owned no guns. Lt. Detective Kip Belcher, the director of TNT, asked to see Kiels paperwork.
Kiel had a state ID card for himself as a registered patient, as well as two caregiver cards. In addition, he had signed doctors recommendations for two additional patients, including his 20-year-old son, Dusty, who has a blown spine and degenerative disk. Both have their patient applications in process at the Department of Community Health.
The officers counted the plants on the balcony, and then asked to be shown to Kiels basement. Based on information in the Express article, they knew he had a hydroponic operation.
Belcher refused comment until Kiel enters a plea in the event charges are brought. But Kiel said that he thinks TNT decided to raid the house after looking at the article photos and concluding that the plants exceeded the legal limit. Kiel believes they erroneously concluded that the pot plants in one of the photos belonged to him; they were actually grown by Dan, another grower interviewed for the article. Kiel said that TNT officials repeatedly interrogated him about Dan and his identity.
After searching the house, Belcher concluded that Kiel was growing 66 plants and had six more that were harvested. As a patient and caregiver to two patients, he could legally own 36 plants. The medical marijuana law, approved by voters in November, allows 12 plants per person, whether as a patient or caregiver.
Kiel contended he could also own a total of 24 plants for the two patients who had their patient applications in process, but Belcher disagreed. Kalkaska County Prosecutor Brian Donnelly said that Belcher called him during the raid and asked him what to do with the plants -- destroy them all, or only those that were considered illegal.
I thought, if hes entitled to 36, then how do you give back the 36 plants if theyre destroyed? So I said, Take pictures of those you are leaving, and at least we wont have the public claiming we are meanies, Donnelly said in an interview.
Belcher left the harvested buds, explaining to Kiel that they were medicine.
The officers left without arresting or charging Kiel; however, Donnelly said that he will probably charge Kiel for the illegal manufacture of marijuana after he receives TNTs report. Under state law, Kiel could face up to a half million dollar fine and seven years in prison for possessing more than 20 illegal plants.
Matthew Abel, an attorney for Michigan NORML, a group that advocates the legalization of marijuana, is now working on 15 cases throughout the state. The act, approved by voters in November, is still in its infancy.
In a case resembling Kiels, a couple in Madison Heights was charged with possessing 21 plants before receiving their state issued ID cards. Police discovered the plants after breaking down their front door with a battering ram on March 30. Torey Clark, who has ovarian cancer, and Bob Redden, who suffers from long-term hip pain, were found not guilty. Had the verdict come back guilty, they would have each faced up to 14 years in prison, according to a June 18 Detroit News article.
During the trial, the Oakland County judge called the Medical Marijuana Act the worst piece of legislation he had ever seen, the article said.
The couple used an affirmative defense, which is outlined in the law. Specifically, when facing prosecution, a patient or caregiver can assert they owned a reasonable amount of plants to assure an uninterrupted supply -- the number is not specified. The act allows possession of plantsprior to a caregiver card being issued -- if there is evidence of a physicians statement that says marijuana will have a therapeutic or palliative benefit for the patients serious or debilitating medical condition.
A REASONABLE RAID
Bob Heflin said he has no problem complimenting TNT for its fairness in dealing with Kiel. Heflin leads meetings at the TC Compassion Club, which familiarizes people with the law and helps connect patients with caregivers.
This is unheard of -- where they raid and leave plants there. They apparently recognized that Archie was a registered patient and caregiver. They havent arrested him. They just confiscated the plants that TNT considered extra ...TNT is just doing its job to make sure people comply with the number of plants they should have. When Archie gets his caregiver status for his three additional patients, he can add more plants. So TNT is establishing a community standard, which reinforces the law.
Kiel believes he was targeted because of the Express article, but doesnt blame the paper for his troubles. Kiel said he has grown marijuana plants on his balcony for years with no problem with the law, and people flow in and out of his house throughout the day.
Kiel lives close to the poverty line and narrowly avoided a cut-off from his electricity after a friend wrote him a $100 check. He is three years behind in his property taxes, so he doesnt know how hell afford a lawyer.
Kiel was shaken by the raid, saying some of the officers acted like they were Gestapo while others were polite.
He said he is very frustrated that people are having a difficult time getting their personal doctors to sign off on the state application, despite being diagnosed with a qualifying illness. His son, A.J., for example, was lying on the couch last week with a cast on his leg. He had jumped off a bridge for fun, hit a rock, and gouged off his kneecap. Hes been diagnosed with a spinal problem, but a doctor wont give him a recommendation.
IN A BIND
Kevin Weber, M.D., a Traverse City family doctor, said doctors are in a bind. Whether the patient is asking for prescription pain relievers or a medical marijuana recommendation, the doctor wants to trust the patients report of chronic pain, but doesnt want to enable drug addiction.
The state is also failing to process applications within 21 days as mandated by law, in part, due to a machine malfunction (now fixed) that makes ID cards. One thousand people applied for applications in June alone, which equates to $100,000 in application fees.
They have a backlog. They ought to put more staff on it, but Governor Granholm is not favorable toward medical marijuana. She hasnt seen the tax advantages, where we can tax, legalize and regulate it, Abel said.
Abel, Heflin and others say the law is gray, but it will gradually be defined by legal precedents. Cities may also take a proactive approach to the economic opportunities. In the city of Hazel Park, for example, the local government is looking to allow caregivers to join together in an organized cooperative, Abel said.
They want people there to pay rent, use the hardware stores, spend money. That city is forward thinking, Abel said.
Said Heflin: Our next step is to come up with a local ordinance for the same kind of thing in Traverse City.
Kiel, whose mantra is be happy was initially incensed over the raid. He has since calmed down and decided not to publicly protest. Yet friends and supporters are calling media and marijuana advocacy chapters all over the state and country.
Kiel contends that the TNT officers arrived without a search warrant, and also targeted him as a caregiver, which he believes is banned by the law. But officers dont need a warrant if the homeowner willingly lets them in, Abel said.
A number of compassion chapters throughout Michigan said they would donate a plant to replace what was destroyed. But so far Kiel is saying no thank you.
Im going to stay completely legal and wait for the caregiver cards, he said.