On October 20, Officer Timmothy Bernhardt plead guilty to charges that he and other Kent County Jail officers received and distributed the butter for their own medicinal use. He and another officer took plea deals and were due to be sentenced in early December. Two other officers refused plea deals and are awaiting trial.
Noted medical marijuana advocate and radio personality Steve Greene, confirmed the identity of the deceased with county officials earlier today.
The investigation began when a package containing the butter was discovered by postal employees and reported to police. “After interviewing Bernhardt, police arrested Brian Tennant, Todd VanDoorne and Michael Frederick.,” per the MLive news report.
Concentrated forms of cannabis, including the ointments and foods created from them, were considered legal for medicinal use until a radical 2013 Court of Appeals opinion in the Carruthers case changed the accepted definition of usable marijuana to include only those items containing bits of the original plant material. Marijuana butter, which is filtered to remove the grit and distasteful portions, does not meet this criteria.
All of the persons alleged to have used the marijuana-infused foodstuffs created from the green butter were registered medical marijuana patients under Michigan’s medical marijuana program (MMP), as was the caregiver who produced the butter and provided it to the officers.
Officer Bernhardt’s death comes at a time when the Michigan Senate is modifying a bill to correct the appellate court’s disruptive ruling in Carruthers. HB 5104 was filed by Rep. Eileen Kowall on October 30 2013 and was passed through Committee and full House votes by December 12, after only 6 weeks of consideration. In a rare display of unity and bipartisanship, the bill passed the Michigan House by a vote of 100-9.
The bill’s immediacy was emphasized by moving testimony from parents of pediatric cannabis patients, whose MMP-endorsed treatment regimes were interrupted by the Court’s unique interpretation. Some of the most moving testimony came from Jim and Erin Powers, whose son Ryan is one of approximately 50 children approved for medical use of marijuana in Michigan.
“The lion’s share of the patients using medibles and extracts are seriously ill and the continued harassment and prosecution of these people is sickening,” Powers said.
The Senate received the bill on January 8 and managed to pass it out of the Government Operations Committee on August 13, more than seven months later. A victim of election-year politics, the bill and it’s controversial partner HB 4271 (The Provisioning Centers Act) were made to wait for their full Senate debate until after the November general election.
Lobbying group the National Patients Rights Association is in negotiations with Governor Snyder’s office and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville to secure legislative approval for the pair of bills, and a signature on each from the governor.
“Every day that goes by puts us closer to restarting this process all over again in 2015,” Greene observed.
The bills are expected to hit Snyder’s desk before the new year, but that won’t help the family of Officer Bernhardt. An appeal of the Court decision in Caruthers was filed with the Michigan Supreme Court early in 2014 but was refused on the grounds that a legislative solution seemed imminent. Apparently the state’s highest court didn’t think it would take this long for the Senate to pass HB 5104.
Advocates didn’t think it would take this long, either. Jim Powers, co-founder of Michigan Parents for Compassion, says he understands the stress this new insanity in the law has caused- especially to victims of this potentially temporary illegality, like Officer Timmothy Bernhardt.
“As the father of a child who depends on extracts to keep his illness in check, I continually wonder, is today the day they are coming?” Powers said. “Further stalling of legislation like House Bill 5104 will eventually push us to move out of state, like so many other Michigan families have already done, in order to help guarantee the safety of our family.”
“Every day that the bill is delayed, more patients become snared up in the legal system for an act that was legal two years ago- and will be likely legal again in a few month’s time,” opined Jamie Lowell, chair of the Michigan chapter of Americans for Safe Access.