Drug felonies without credible proof? — Allegations of politicking in state police crime labs

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – First on FOX 17, we broke serious allegations that state police crime labs are being told to falsely report marijuana test results. This is resulting in misleading lab reports that an attorney claims creates felonies without real proof.

Attorney Michael Komorn believes a recent policy change in the way Michigan State Police forensic science crime labs report marijuana may have led to years of wrongful convictions.

Komorn called this a “perversion of science,” and “crime labs turned crime factories:” accusations that politics are trumping forensic science by escalating misdemeanor marijuana charges into felonies without proof.

It’s torn one Spring Lake family to pieces: a 6-year-old son taken away from his parents 14 months ago, in part, because of a disputed felony.

Since September of last year, Max Lorincz has been cheated of carefree moments with his son, Dante. Afternoons of uninterrupted fun have morphed into supervised visits.

“The doctor is telling me one thing, the judge is telling me another,” said Lorincz.

A card-carrying medical marijuana patient, Lorincz is caught between doctor’s orders and a judge.

For years he has been ingesting marijuana oils for serious stomach issues and pain after a debilitating back injury. Last year, during an unrelated emergency, a cop walked into his home finding a “smudge” of butane hash oil.

His medicine got him in trouble, and he was charged with a misdemeanor for having marijuana. But he has a medical marijuana card, which should protect him for having what’s called “usable marijuana,” under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.

So the charges could have been dropped, but that is not what happened.

The Ottawa County Prosecutor charged Lorincz for having a schedule 1 synthetic drug; that is no longer a misdemeanor, it is a two-year felony.  Komorn calls it a “bogus crime.”

"When you have a laboratory that is looking at a substance and reporting it in a way that makes it a schedule 1 instead of the marijuana they know it is, it's creating a crime,” said Komorn.

What Lorincz had is a marijuana extract: butane hash oil, made by filtering butane through the plant, extracting the cannabinoids, or chemicals unique to marijuana, namely THC, the plant’s most psychoactive ingredient.

The certificate of analysis of Lorincz’s MSP crime lab report includes the phrase, “origin unknown.”

“In this particular case a quantitation was not done, and therefore I could not conclude whether or not it was hemp, you're correct,” said William Ruhf, the MSP forensic scientist who completed Lorincz’s lap report.

Ruhf wrote this lab report, and then testified in April that he could not determine if this hash oil was natural or man-made. Again, this is the difference between a misdemeanor and a two-year felony.

Jay Siegel, a chemist with a PhD and the former MSU Forensic Science Director, disagrees.

“Yes, this is a preparation of marijuana. It was extracted from marijuana,” Siegel said.

Siegel told FOX 17 Lorincz’s sample, based upon the lab report, is natural marijuana.

He pointed out in this lab report’s data several tell-tale signs of the natural plant: a brown color, and several cannabinoids, including cannabidiol, cannabinol, and THC.

He said it is unreasonable to say this is man-made.

“It’s much easier to get marijuana and extract it; the syntheses are quite sophisticated,” said Siegel.

Then, why are state police forensic scientists writing “origin unknown” on reports like this?

"The substance that we're talking about has always known and been reported as from the lab as being marijuana, they know it,” said Komorn. “The lab is being forced, compelled, the policy changed to do this a certain way, to report this as a synthetic THC.”

“They also know that by reporting it as synthetic THC, they are stating that they can prove that it came from a synthetic source, as opposed to a natural plant source. This is a lie,” said Komorn.

Komorn said this is the result of a recent MSP Forensic Science policy change, which is not based in science. He obtained months of emails between 2013 and the present through the Freedom of Information Act.

They expose a lengthy debate among MSP forensic scientists, directors, and prosecutors associated with the Attorney General’s office, all regarding a specific procedural change for marijuana lab reports after 2013.

"The law enforcement community is focused on criminalizing medical marijuana patients, creating crimes in a crime laboratory that gives them no integrity,” said Komorn.

First, a crime lab technical leader wrote, “although THC found in foodstuffs and oils is most likely a marijuana extract... our scientists cannot determine if it’s marijuana without seeing any plant material.”

But, Siegel and Komorn already said this is not true.

Emails show after meeting with the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM), a lab leader turns one prosecutor’s opinion into policy.

“That is my opinion, THC is a schedule 1 drug regardless of where it comes from,” Ken Stecker, a prosecutor who works with the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM), which is affiliated with the Attorney General’s office, wrote in an email.

But, according to the law, where THC comes from does make a difference.

"The most damning evidence is that their own forensic scientists calls them out that they can't do it based on forensic science, and yet they do it anyways," Kormon said.

MSP forensic scientist Scott Penabaker wrote his concern to colleagues: “By going out on that limb and calling it THC, you jump from a misdemeanor to a felony.” He goes onto write, it is “highly doubtful any of these medical marijuana products we’re testing are synthetic.. That’s completely impractical.”

Then, controlled substances unit supervisor Bradley Choate wrote his heated opposition, including that identifying THC gives scientists two choices: one, marijuana possession as a misdemeanor; or two, synthetic THC possession, a felony; he wrote there is not a third choice.

But if lab reporting goes on like this, Choate wrote: “This could lead to the wrong charge of possession of synthetic THC and the ultimate wrongful conviction of an individual. For the lab to continue this possible miscarriage of justice would be a huge black eye for the division and the department.”

“You don’t just call up the Attorney General’s office and ask them what they think because they’re not scientists,” said Former Director of MSP Forensic Science John Collins.

Collins served as the director of MSP Forensic Science from 2010 until he said he surprised the department with his resignation in 2012 in part, because of these issues.

“In my experience, it was just a nonstop political game,” said Collins.

Collins reviewed documents in Lorincz’s case, including another email chain from Choate to the department citing their professional training materials.

Choate wrote that their conclusions are based on the evidence, not on political pressure, or other outside influences. Then he wrote, “whether or not an individual has a medical marijuana card is immaterial to how we report out our results.”

This was in response to another email, from MSP lab director Jim Pierson who wrote that lab tests from THC waxes and oils are coming back as marijuana, so they cannot arrest people.

Then Pierson wrote, “Is there a way to get this changed? Our prosecutors are willing to argue that one speck of marijuana does not turn the larger quantity of oil/wax into marijuana.”

“Any time that scientists, or administrators of scientific operations, if they would intentionally try to create ambiguity to create a political advantage is beyond unacceptable,” said Collins.

When FOX 17 reviewed some emails obtained through FOIA with Collins he said, “That doesn’t surprise me.”

Michigan State Police Public Affairs and the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan’s president responded to FOX 17, deferring to each other.

State police public affairs said, it is up to the prosecutors to charge crimes, and lab policy was changed to add the statement “origin unknown” when it’s not possible to determine if THC comes for marijuana or is synthetic.”

Then the PAAM president wrote, it is up to the crime labs to report science. Quote, “any accusation that the lab and PAAM are directing lab personnel to report crimes without evidence is untrue.”

Komorn doesn’t buy it.

"There is some wrongdoing going on, that they know that it's wrong, and they continue to do it otherwise,” said Komorn.

And Siegel, who is also a former professor of many of these MSP employees, urges them to uphold the integrity of science.

“What I would say to these people is get yourselves together,” said Siegel. “Get them all together to agree that this is bad science.”

Meanwhile, Lorincz is only allowed to visit Dante twice per week. He said he will not stop fighting for custody, and for the right to use the medicine he says does not hurt his body like pharmaceuticals.

“If nobody stands up for this and it just keeps going the way it is, how many more people are going to get thrown under the bus just for using their prescribed medicine? It's just ridiculous,” said Lorincz.

Thursday evening FOX 17 caught up with Attorney General Bill Schuette at another event.

When FOX 17 asked specifically about these emails that suggest prosecutors within his office are manipulating the way crime labs are reporting marijuana, and what his involvement is, Schuette answered:

“We’re in the middle of an investigation so I really don’t, I can’t comment one way or the other.  But, we have an outstanding group of people that work very hard to make sure we enforce the law and defend the Constitution of Michigan.”

Schuette also told FOX 17 his office is “always very open, very transparent, and we have a great group of lawyers who work very hard for the citizens of Michigan.”

An evidentiary hearing for Lorincz’s case was originally set for Nov. 5, but it was adjourned. The Ottawa County Prosecutor filed a motion suppressing the defense’s subpoenas for 13 people, many of whom are quoted from the emails in question.

The defense told FOX 17 they plan to re-file motions and set another hearing likely in December.

At this point, it may be up to another court to address the underlying allegations outside of Lorincz’s case.

Meanwhile, there is pending marijuana legislation statewide that would expand the definition of “usable marijuana,” according to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, to include concentrates and extracts; for example, House Bill 4210. This would explicitly protect people like Lorincz from charges.

We will stay on top of this case for you, and continue to investigate.

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12 comments

  • Fun facts

    That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Our judicial system has failed to represent the people for years. All about the all mighty dollar is how it works. Look at the laws we have that do nothing but bring in $ off the backs of people these pos’s are supposed to represent . yeah , make more and more laws for profit that we idiots vote you in office to enforce and make up

  • CarolJRuiz

    >>Read Now….my best friend’s mother-in-law makes $66/hr on the internet. She has been unemployed for 8 months but last month her pay check was $15769 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more here➜➜➜➜➜➜► Click~Here~To~Read~More

  • Timothy Locke (@MiVapemans)

    His office was anything BUT open and Transparent as he was circling the Stat in 2011/2012 for Private Meetings with local Prosecutors to try to determine how they could Usurp the Will of the People and destroy the Freedom that came with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act…..

  • William Clark

    Appalling. My thanks to Fox 17 for covering this scandal.

    No one should promote the canard that marijuana is a drug. In truth it’s a medicinal herb, cultivated, bred, and evolved in service to human beings over thousands of years.

    “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting people to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, break up their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” –John Ehrlichman

    Prohibition of marijuana is a premise built on a tissue of lies: Concern For Public Safety. Our new laws save hundreds of lives every year, on our highways alone. In November of 2011 a study at the University of Colorado found that in the thirteen states that decriminalized marijuana between 1990 and 2009, traffic fatalities have dropped by nearly nine percent—now nearly ten percent in Michigan—more than the national average, while sales of beer went flat by five percent. No wonder Big Alcohol opposes it. Ambitious, unprincipled, profit-driven undertakers might be tempted too.

    In 2012 a study released by 4AutoinsuranceQuote revealed that marijuana users are safer drivers than non-marijuana users, as “the only significant effect that marijuana has on operating a motor vehicle is slower driving”, which “is arguably a positive thing”. Despite occasional accidents, eagerly reported by police-blotter ‘journalists’ as ‘marijuana-related’, a mix of substances was often involved. Alcohol, most likely, and/or prescription drugs, nicotine, caffeine, meth, cocaine, heroin, and a trace of the marijuana passed at a party ten days ago. However, on the whole, as revealed in big-time, insurance-industry stats, within the broad swath of mature, experienced consumers, slower and more cautious driving shows up in significant numbers. A recent Federal study has reached the same conclusion. And legalization should improve those numbers further.

    No one has ever died from an overdose of marijuana. It’s the most benign ‘substance’ in history. Most people—and particularly patients who medicate with marijuana–use it in place of prescription drugs or alcohol.

    Marijuana has many benefits, most of which are under-reported or never mentioned in American newspapers. Research at the University of Saskatchewan indicates that, unlike alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or Nancy (“Just say, ‘No!’”) Reagan’s beloved nicotine, marijuana is a neuro-protectant that actually encourages brain-cell growth. Research in Spain (the Guzman study) and other countries have discovered that it also has tumor-shrinking, anti-carcinogenic properties. These were confirmed by the 30-year Tashkin population study at UCLA.

    Drugs are man-made, cooked up in labs, for the sake of patents and the profits gained by them. Often useful, but typically burdened with cautionary notes and lists of side effects as long as one’s arm. ‘The works of Man are flawed.’

    Marijuana is a medicinal herb, the most benign and versatile in history. “Cannabis” in Latin, and “kaneh bosm” in the old Hebrew scrolls, quite literally the Biblical Tree of Life, used by early Christians to treat everything from skin diseases to deep pain and despair. Why despair? Consider the current medical term for cannabis sativa: a “mood elevator”. . . as opposed to antidepressants, which ‘flatten out’ emotions, leaving patients numb to both depression and joy.

    The very name, “Christ” translates as “the anointed one”. Well then, anointed with what? It’s a fair question. And it wasn’t holy water, friends. Holy water came into wide use in the Middle Ages. In Biblical times, it was used by a few tribes of Greek pagans. But Christ was neither Greek nor pagan.

    Medicinal oil, for the Prince of Peace. A formula from the Biblical era has been rediscovered. It specifies a strong dose of oil from kaneh bosom, ‘the fragrant cane’ of a dozen uses: ink, paper, rope, nutrition. . . . It was clothing on their backs and incense in their temples. And a ‘skinful’ of medicinal oil could certainly calm one’s nerves, imparting a sense of benevolence and connection with all living things. No wonder that the ‘anointed one’ could gain a spark, an insight, a sense of the divine, and the confidence to convey those feelings to friends and neighbors.

    I am appalled at the number of ‘Christian’ politicians, prosecutors, and police who pose on church steps or kneeling in prayer on their campaign trails, but cannot or will not face the scientific or the historical truths about cannabis, Medicinal Herb Number One, safe and effective for thousands of years, and celebrated as sacraments by most of the world’s major religions.

  • Paul Pot

    The police and prosecutors playing this callous game do us a great favor even while they destroy lives.
    They will force the feds to intervene and finally address the conflict between state and fed.
    And that will most likely entail removing cannabis from the schedule.
    Keep demanding your rights.
    Cannabis is going to be the only election issue over the next 12 months.

  • Jamie Lowell

    MILegalize is the answer.

    Cannabis is the low hanging fruit for police and prosecutors to generate revenue and to make their careers appear to have value.

    The lab spends 40% of its resources to process simple cannabis tests- instead of rape kits and other tests that could actually help solve real crimes with real victims.

    MILegalize.com offers the most sensible approach to cannabis policy for Michigan and will direct the prosecutors and police to worry about public health and safety issues and to not be so obsessed with the pot.