Officer’s attorney: Rx marijuana ‘witch hunt’

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The attorney for one of four Kent County Sheriff’s Department corrections officers accused of illegal use of medical marijuana says the charges against his client are the result of a “witch hunt.”

Sgt. Tim Bernhardt, Officer Mike Frederick, Officer Todd VanDoorne and Officer Brian Tennant were charged last week for making or having a product called marijuana butter, which is made by extracting the chemical that causes marijuana’s psychological effects and relieves pain. Three of those officers have medical marijuana cards, according to court documents obtained by 24 Hour News 8, and so does the wife of the fourth officer.

VanDoorne’s attorney Bruce Block said the four men didn’t mean to break any law. He said the law needs to change rather than his client’s behavior.

“I think it’s a witch hunt,” Block said. “I think you have an establishment that doesn’t like the Medical Marijuana Act.”

Block said his client denies that drugs were distributed out of his home.

VanDoorne, a 22-year veteran with the sheriff’s department, is charged with maintaining a drug house and possession of a controlled substance. Block says his client has a medical marijuana card and was using the marijuana butter to alleviate pain caused by a medical problem, not running a drug ring.

“There are no winners regardless of how this comes out. Their lives are basically ruined. Their careers are probably ruined, as well,” Block said. “It’s disappointing when you have 22-year veterans, I think most of them with spotless records.”

Block also blames the legal system. State authorities have determined that under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, patients can legally make products using marijuana leaves, but that extracting THC — the chemical in marijuana that dulls pain — is illegal.

“THC is THC,” Block said. “Whether you … get the apple juice out of the apple by eating it or whether you press the apple and get apple juice, it’s still apple juice.”

A bill to allow medical marijuana card holders to extract THC has passed the state House of Representatives and is before the Senate.

The investigation into the marijuana butter and who was using it started on March 17 after the U.S. Postal Service contacted authorities about a suspicious package.

Sheriff Lawrence Stelma said his department has been interviewing staff members since Friday. As a result of those interviews, four more correctional officers were placed on paid administrative leave. They were also given drug tests.

The results of those tests were negative and the four officers have been cleared of any wrongdoing. By Tuesday, they were back on the job.

“We try to deal with it quickly. We try to deal with it openly. And we’ve really, I think, extended to the public right from the beginning what was going on and didn’t try to cover anything up. We handled it and we move on,” Stelma said.

Stelma said his department took the incident very seriously.

In the end, investigations found the Bernhardt, Frederick, VanDoorne and Tennant acted alone and outside of work.

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