“We aren’t going anywhere,” the silver-haired matriarch of Clinical Relief states, less than 24 hours after being forced face-down on the floor and handcuffed by drug-enforcement officers with ski masks and guns.
Barbara Agro, 70, of Lake Orion was working the reception desk of Clinical Relief at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 25 when Oakland County Narcotics agents raided the medical marijuana facility, confiscating all of the clinic’s medicinal supply, confidential patient records, some computers, telephone equipment and the modem for the security cameras. They even took the press clippings and thank-you letters and cards that were tacked up on the bulletin board in the waiting room.
Three employees were arrested on-site and face charges relating to alleged illegal drug sales, along with 14 others from both Clinical Relief and Waterford-based business Everybody’s Cafe, where a compassion club meets. Arraignments were held Aug. 27 in two area courts.
There were also raids on homes associated with the businesses, including Clinical Relief proprietor Nick Agro’s home in Royal Oak and his mother, Barbara Agro’s home in Lake Orion. Police say people at the facilities were selling marijuana outside the scope of what the law permits for medicinal marijuana patients, including selling to patients without medical marijuana cards.
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard says the cases illustrate of abuses of Michigan’s medical marijuana law. Defendants and their attorneys say those arrested were legally distributing medical marijuana.
Barbara Agro and another employee who had been present during the raid returned to work Aug. 26, referring patients to other legallycertified suppliers and setting up doctor referral appointments for their clinic. The clinic’s doctor was not in the building at the time of the raid and was expected to begin seeing patients again this week.
“They took all of our records, so for now it’s like starting from day one,” Agro said. “They took everything but the furniture. But we’ll bounce back.
“What we are most worried about is our patients who need medicine that they can’t get,” she continued. “We give them referrals, but I know some people will be too afraid to go. They’re terrified that they’ll get raided now that the police have their information. Our patients aren’t criminals. Many have never broken the law in their life, and this is a medicine that they need, and want to get from a medical doctor. They’d rather have elderly cancer patients and people in wheelchairs go try to buy drugs off the street? I know there are people leaving here today without hope, because they won’t have the medicine that they need to get through day to day.”
In addition to the employees, Agro says three sick patients were handcuffed and forced to lie face-down on the ground with guns to their heads. Another woman who had only been on premises for a consultation “was scared out of her mind and crying” as police “cornered her coming down the stairs,” said the other employee, who asked to remain anonymous. They and their belongings were searched, and they were ultimately released.
“They never took their masks off,” Agro said of the raiders. “They took the modem for the security camera so we can’t prove what they did and what they took. They never gave a warrant and they never gave us a receipt for what they took.
“Our lawyers are all over this.”
As an afterthought, Agro added “I think that’s what they want. They want to find a clean place like us and try and use us to create new law; see what can they get away with on a place that is being run in a clinical, legitimate way. We’re one of the first and they’re looking for a test.”
“Just in time for it to go to court before the November elections,” added a patient, who was one of many that stopped in just to see if everything was OK after hearing news of the raids. Police confiscated the phone system, so patients who heard about the raid had been unable to call for more information. The clinic typically serves between 50-80 patients a day. Many have been stopping by in person to show support and to get referrals.
Clinical Relief opened three months ago, shortly before the city of Ferndale enacted a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana facilities. On the evening of Aug. 23, the City Council repealed the moratorium and set in place zoning ordinances for new businesses. The ordinances require a special use permit, and limit the areas of the city where such facilities can open.
Hilton Road is not included in the permissible zoning areas, however Clinical Relief is allowed to remain open because they are “grandfathered in,” i.e. they opened before the restrictions were put in place.
“This is where we want to be. Not up on Woodward where we’d be mixed in with head shops and cafes or other ‘pothead’ type places,” Agro said. “This is a medical clinic and we take it very seriously.”
She said that customers go up to 84 years of age and include doctors, professors, lawyers and teachers. Many are cancer patients. Some are terminally ill. Many are wheelchair-bound. “If you could see what I see, you’d understand why we do what we do,” she added. “It’s not like people think.”