Christopher Gee worked for a while at a medical marijuana store in Cadillac but he later said he didn’t like the way his employers did business.
Too many corners were cut, Gee said.
They were too loose with the rules. They were going to wind up in jail.
Gee, 36, of Tustin, said he decided he would open up his own shop that would do things right, according to his testimony during a 2011 court hearing.
He would follow Michigan’s Medical Marijuana law as best he could. He would hire a lawyer to advise him. He would help out patients by getting them the medicine they need. And he would make a few bucks along the way.
HEFTY CHARGES LEVELED
That’s what Gee did, and he started Twinn Bridges Compassion Club, with outlets in Cadillac and Midland, but that did not keep him out of trouble.
He was closed down in Midland County after the prosecutor there had his business declared a civil nuisance in 2011.
The Midland business closure occurred around the time the Michigan Court of Appeals barred patient-to-patient transfers of marijuana, essentially criminalizing the business model that medical marijuana stores across the state had employed.
In Wexford County, officials were more aggressive -- he was charged with numerous felony cases for delivery and manufacture of marijuana and he was also charged with conducting a criminal enterprise, a racketeering charge that carries up to 20 years in prison.
Gee’s criminal attorney, Jesse Williams, of Traverse City, believes Wexford County officials and the Traverse Narcotics Team went too far. (Williams was not Gee’s business lawyer.)
In March, Williams filed and won a motion to have the cases against Gee dismissed.
Wexford County Circuit Court Judge William Fagerman agreed with Williams that Gee could be considered a primary caregiver, even though he was not a registered caregiver, who was able to hand out reasonable amounts of medical marijuana to patients under the law.
Earlier this month, Wexford County filed a motion for reconsideration to have the case against Gee reinstated.
Williams said he believes the criminal case is waste of time. The store is closed now and ealier prosecutors could have followed officials in Midland and had Gee’s business shuttered in Cadillac with much less of a fuss.
“TNT could have gone right back to Wexford County that day (that the Midland business was closed) and said, ‘Hey prosecutor, let’s bring forth a public nuisance action,’” Williams said.
Instead they launched a drawn-out, expensive criminal prosecution.
FREED FROM PAINKILLER ABUSE
It was back-to-back car crashes in 2003 that made Gee a medical marijuana patient, he testified at the hearing in Midland County in July, 2011.
He said the medical problems led to repeat surgeries and eventually abuse of dangerous painkillers.
“I got to the point where I was having surgeries after surgeries, because I was just doing everything I could,” he said, according to a transcript.
He said marijuana changed his life: “Someone had offered me medical marijuana. I was out of my pain pills, on my last edge. I took it. When I took it, I realized, wow. It’s got decent value. ...I stopped every pain pill possible.”
And he became such a believer in medical marijuana that he went into the medical marijuana business.
Williams said Gee voluntarily closed his Cadillac business after the Court of Appeals found that patient-to-patient transfers were illegal in August, 2011.
The charges against Gee were dismissed at a hearing on March 14.
MOTION TO DISMISS
Prosecutors want another shot at Gee, however.
The lead prosecutor for the Wexford County case is William Donnelly, who is the Missaukee County prosecutor. Donnelly was appointed after Wexford County Prosecutor Anthony Badovinac removed himself from the case because Badovinac had represented one of Gee’s co-defendants while he was in private practice.
Donnelly, who didn’t return a call seeking comment, argued that Gee broke the law because a caregiver can only sell marijuana to one of his five registered patients under the law; they cannot sell to anyone with a medical marijuana card even if they do it through a medical marijuana dispensary.
Fagerman rejected that argument, ruling that a part of the medical marijuana law called Sec. 8 allows defendants to bring an affirmative defense under certain circumstances.
He found that Gee met those circumstances because he was over age 21, he had no prior drug felony, and his business sold what appeared to be reasonable amounts of marijuana to customers, including the police informants, who were card-carrying medical marijuana patients.
Fagerman didn’t get to William’s second argument, which was that the activity Gee is charged with took place before the Michigan Court of Appeals barred patient-to-patient transfers. At the time of the investigation, courts around the state disagreed about whether a business model like Gee’s was legal under the medical marijuana law.
Williams wrote: “Stated another way, Defendant is being called a criminal because he interpreted an ambiguously written statute in the same fashion as a sitting circuit court judge.”
A SMOKEY, MURKY LAW
Gee’s case is yet another medical marijuana case that’s been drawn out by the murkiness of Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act.
In the motion for reconsideration that could see charges reinstated against Gee, the sides argue about when a Sec. 8 affirmative defense could be be used by Gee in this case, and the arguments get arcane.
Prosecutors argue that the defense never proved the amounts of marijuana sold to informants at the store -- between one and five grams at a time -- were amounts “reasonably necessary to treat their respective medical conditions.”
They also dispute whether Gee had the status necessary to bring an affirmative defense as a primary caregiver.
Prosecutors, who now include Christopher Forsyth, an assistant Grand Traverse County prosecutor who specializes in drug cases and often works with TNT, argue that Gee conceded he was not the primary caregiver of the patients/informants in the case.
Williams has maintained that while Gee was never their “registered primary caregiver,” he should be seen as their de facto primary caregiver for the purposes of an affirmative defense.
BELIEVES PROSECUTION IS ABSURD
Williams said he believes the case against Gee is absurd.
It involved nine controlled buys by confidential informants. Those buys netted around 23 grams of marijuana purchased for $334, less than an ounce of marijuana altogether.
In one instance, an informant received a lollipop that contained an unknown amount of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
“These officers should be embarrassed for what they did,” Williams said. “They’re acting like they’re protecting the public.”
Lt. Dan King of the Traverse Narcotics Team said he didn’t want to comment while the case was under appeal.
Two of Gee’s employees pleaded guilty to felonies for their involvement prior to the dismissal of the case against Gee.
Williams said he believes it is ridiculous to charge Gee as a conductor of a criminal enterprise.
“That’s a statute to bring down big-time players who are doing real harm and there hasn’t been any harm here,” Williams said. “They are wasting big-time resources for what? Nothing has been accomplished.”
Now, in what Williams said is as an ironic epilogue, state legislators are attempting to codify something like Gee’s business model for the distribution of medical marijuana.
There is a bill pending that would enable the legal operation of something like Gee’s business in the state.