A rural Michigan prosecutor furious that the state allows medical marijuana took her political views a step too far in the courtroom.
A state appellate court in the Upper Peninsula overturned the conviction of an accused weed grower in November, saying the prosecutor went on an inappropriate “personal diatribe” against medical pot.
The appeals court voted 3-0 to give Paul Heminger a new trial. Heminger was convicted earlier this year of growing more than 20 marijuana plants in Alger County, Mich.
Heminger had a medical marijuana card at the time of his arrest, but prosecutors contend he was growing too much weed to qualify for legal protection. Alger County prosecutor Karen Bahrman used her closing argument to rail against medical weed and the people who use it.
Bahrman complained to jurors about a local cannabis advocacy group that assisted in Heminger’s defense, saying they had a “vision for the country where everybody can walk around stoned.”
“They do everything to support the government services they want, and have nothing but criticism for the government services they don’t want,” Bahrman said. “We’re trespassers and tramplers of their rights right up until they need us to protect them from the violence that they attract to the community.”
In essence, Bahrman was pleading with the jury to convict Heminger because potheads don’t like cops. In a ruling released Nov. 21, the appellate court held that her “unfounded, irrelevant and inflammatory statements” violated his right to a fair trial.
“The prosecutor’s closing argument was clearly and thoroughly improper,” the court said. “The prosecutor embarks on a political commentary, and a personal diatribe discrediting the (law) as a whole. . . . She calls the (medical marijuana) act ‘meaningless,’ and suggests that those suffering from chronic pain are simply cheating the system.”
Bahrman was defensive after the opinion was released, saying it was her only reversal in 30 years.
Michigan voters adopted MMJ by a wide margin in 2008, winning a majority vote in every one of the state’s 83 counties – including Alger County and its neighbors in the Upper Peninsula.
The law is still in flux; last year, the Michigan Supreme Court banned medical weed dispensaries. Patients must grow their own pot or get it from a licensed caregiver.
The backlash against MMJ has been fierce in the state’s conservative political corners. But the program has survived numerous legal challenges and remains the oldest of its kind in the Midwest.
Legal recreational weed may be on its way, all Michigan’s Bahrman’s to the contrary. Several cities have already legalized on the local level, though that doesn’t affect state law.
Heminger received a six-month sentence after his first trial. He is free on bond while Bahrman decides whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.