It is rare that a person of interest in connection to a marijuana raid would, against attorney advice, speak to local media. But, Jeffery David Ellis, of Livonia, said he wants his story told for two reasons.
First, he said he did nothing wrong.
Second, he wants his possessions returned, including marijuana from the 34 mature plants found in the basement of the home he rents on West Huron Avenue in Bad Axe.
Ellis said he is a caretaker for four patients, and is legally registered with the State of Michigan to grow marijuana for medical use.
“This was not an illegal operation,” he said. “I would not be two doors from the State Police post if I was doing something illegal.”
Ellis said, as a grower, he is registered with the Michigan Department of Community Heath (MDCH), and also has a certificate for each of his four patients.
He said he feels police should have checked the registry as part of their investigation.
“If they say they know the names of the people who live there, why didn’t they check the registry?” Ellis asked.
What may be in question, Ellis said, is the number of plants he was able to grow. He said he believes he is able to have 12 usable plants for each patient and immature plants ready to rotate in after the larger plants’ crop is harvested.
The 12-plant rule is not clearly defined within the law, Ellis said, and he was counting only plants able to produce marijuana. His cuttings and immature plants, therefore, should not be included in the count, he said.
According to the law, for each registered qualifying patient who has a specified primary caregiver, the caregiver is allowed to cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants. The law states plants have to be kept in an enclosed, locked facility and any incidental amount of seeds, stalks and unusable roots are permitted.
“I know I did not do anything wrong. I was operating within the state guidelines. I had 34 plants, and I could have had 48,” Ellis said, noting the house was locked, as required by the law.
Since the medical marijuana law is new ground in Michigan, Ellis said he feels a responsibility to stand up for not only his rights, but the rights of all growers and patients who are being persecuted for doing something the vast majority of voters made legal in November 2008.
“I look forward to my day in court if I do get charged. Maybe it’ll set a precedent,” he said.
Ellis is anxious to find out whether he will face charges, as he said police told his attorney they are taking another look at the case.
He is most upset because when police raided the West Huron Avenue home on Sept. 25, they cut off his patients’ access to medication they desperately need. One of those patients, he said, is his wife, who suffers from lupus and is in constant pain without the marijuana.
“It helps my wife 100 percent,” Ellis said. “If it wasn’t for the marijuana, she would not be able to move about.”
He said he’s been very careful to follow the new law, because he did not want to risk being arrested and separated from his family.
“At no point did I ever believe I was breaking the law,” Ellis said. “My wife counts on me dearly, and I wouldn’t jeopardize my ability to care for her.”
He said he has not yet returned to the house in Bad Axe where he grew the marijuana, and he can only hope the police have not destroyed the marijuana or made it unusable.
Ellis said he considered informing local police of his operation, but he was afraid it would open the door to harassment or special treatment by police.
Michigan voters passed the Medical Marijuana Act last year, and it went into effect Dec. 4. Ellis said as soon as he was legally able to, he began growing the plants with the intent of helping his wife and three friends, all of whom have debilitating conditions and have registered with the Michigan Medical Marijuana Program, which is administered by MDCH.
Ellis’ patients in limbo
One of Ellis’ patients, Kirk McDonald, of Wayne County, said Tuesday he filed a complaint with MDCH against the Bad Axe Police Department.
“The Department of Health plainly can see he was growing within his limit,” McDonald said. “These ill informed officers just raided my medicine and (may have) destroyed it.”
McDonald, a disabled veteran with a double amputation above his knees, said the marijuana controls his pain without the side effects of pain pills. He said he was depending on Ellis’ next crop for his medicine, and now his supply is dwindling.
“Now, what am I forced to do, go to the street to get my medicine and possibly get killed?” McDonald asked.
While McDonald said he believes police should have known about Ellis’ status as a legal grower, he said the bust was not entirely their fault.
“I don’t want to defame and snap back at law enforcement, because they’re doing their job, but they should have at least done their homework,” he said.
McDonald said if MDCH had done a better job informing police stations across the state about the law, the raid never would have happened.
“I put no blame on them for not knowing, but I guess after today Bad Axe Police will know … It’s a new law. (The police) probably just think business as usual, get them,” he said. “The facts are, in the State of Michigan, it is now legal, and the man was totally in compliance.”
McDonald attempted to avoid similar problems in his own home. When he was issued his Michigan Medical Marijuana registration identification card, he paid a visit to an officer in Dearborn Heights.
“I went to my police station and notified them that I was a card carrying member,” McDonald said, adding he has a concealed weapons permit and he wanted to ensure his registration in the medical marijuana program would not affect his ability to carry a weapon.
McDonald also takes issue with the amount of money the police state each plant is worth.
“No plant in the world is worth $1,000 a piece unless you gold plate it,” he said.
A second of Ellis’ patients, Patrick Chiles, who lives in the Detroit area, declined to share information on his illness, but he said he uses the marijuana for pain control.
“It makes you feel more relaxed,” he added.
Chiles received his card earlier this year after getting approval from his doctor. Chiles then filled out an application that included health-related questions. He also had to pay a $100 application fee. He sent in the application and doctor approval to the state and received his card about two weeks later.
He said he is on other pain medication, but he’s not able to take very much of it because doing so can cause other health problems. When the pain medication isn’t enough to conquer his pain, he said he uses the marijuana as a supplement.
“I don’t use it every day,” Chiles said. “I use it as needed.”
He said by law, he is allowed to have 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana on him at any one time, but he said he usually doesn’t have that much.
Chiles said he would get marijuana from Ellis about every four to six weeks, depending on the life cycle of the plants.
Now that Ellis has lost his marijuana inventory, Chiles said he will either have to wait until Ellis is able to have more marijuana plants or he’ll have to “get it off the street from an unknown source.”
“I’m screwed either way,” he said.
Chiles said Ellis is a very good friend, and he trusts him. He doesn’t like the thought of getting marijuana from an unknown source, because he won’t know the quality of the product.
“I could be paying money for junk,” he said. “I won’t know what I’m getting involved with.”
Chiles said he would like to have the state marijuana law changed so it’s more specific for caregivers like Ellis.
“He was in the legal limit for adult plants,” Chiles said.
He said the law should be more specific about how many plants a caregiver can have at each growth cycle, rather than just stating a caregiver can have 12 plants.
Chiles said Ellis is registered with the state, so he’s not sure why the law enforcement can’t simply look it up.
“He should’ve never been harassed,” he said. “He’s being treated like a common criminal ... like a big time drug lord doing a horrible thing. There are people out there selling heroin, meth (and other illegal drugs) and killing other people, and I don’t want (Ellis) put in that kind of category. He’s a good guy, an honest, hard worker.”
Chiles said Ellis isn’t just growing marijuana to make money.
“He’s taking care of his own family,” he said, referring to Ellis’ wife.
Pete Vranesevich is a third patient who receives his marijuana supply from Ellis. Since 1999, Vranesevich has been participating in an experimental drug program through the University of Michigan. Once the marijuana law was approved by voters, he met with his physician, who approved Vranesevich to get a card.
“I thought this was going to be beneficial, and it turned out to be tragic,” he said about being able to get medical marijuana.
Vranesevich said he can’t take any pain medication, even over-the-counter pain medication, because it causes his liver to bleed. He said he counts on the marijuana to relieve nausea and pain.
“It’s not like I’m rolling up a joint and running around partying with people,” he said.
Vranesevich has been getting marijuana from Ellis since June. He was expecting to get more this week, but now, he’s not sure what he will be able to do to relieve his pain.
“It’s my only source of relief,” he said. “I’m at a loss. I’ll be worse for wear.”
Vranesevich said he doesn’t understand why Ellis is in trouble, and believes Ellis was abiding by the law.
“It’s blown up to proportions that it never should’ve been,” he said. “I don’t understand how things can get so screwed up. There seems to be a disconnect (regarding the law). Not everyone is on the same page.”
He said he doesn’t think the local community understands or supports the idea of people growing marijuana for medical purposes.
Vranesevich wondered if what happened with Ellis will become a trend for those who grow marijuana for medical purposes, and suggested perhaps secrecy should be taken out of the equation.
“I wonder if there could be signs in front of the house or seals in the windows of the house (where medical marijuana is grown), letting people know the caregiver is complying with state standards,” he said. “That way, the community knows about it.”
By Kelly Jerome and Traci L. Weisenbac
October 5, 2009
Huron Daily Tribune