BAY CITY, MI -- Appearing before a judge to learn his penalty for having too much medical marijuana, a 65-year-old man said he began growing the crop to help an ailing friend.
He thought he was following the letter of the law, only to find his home raided by police and he and his wife facing felony charges.
Sympathetic to him, both the judge and his defense attorney shared their opinions that the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act can be a convoluted piece of legislation.
"When me and my wife ventured into this, it was never my intention to break any laws," said David A. Dabrowski the morning of Monday, April 17. "I thought I was doing everything that was supposed to be done. I wanted to help people out."
Dabrowski said he started growing medical marijuana to be a caregiver for a close friend.
Dabrowski in March pleaded guilty to one count of delivering or manufacturing marijuana, a four-year felony. The same day, the prosecution dismissed the same charge faced by his 64-year-old wife, Sandra K. Dabrowski.
The Bay Area Narcotics Enforcement Team (or BAYANET) executing a search warrant on the couple's Bangor Township home on April 27, 2015. Throughout the house, officers found 96 marijuana plants, 37.7 grams of loose marijuana drying in a basket, and another batch on a table weighing approximately 1,400 grams. Police also found one marijuana plant and marijuana branches in a pole barn, Bay County Sheriff's Detective Barry Gatza testified in December 2015.
In a freezer, police found marijuana oil and several pounds of usable marijuana, Gatza said.
Dabrowski told police he and his wife were medical marijuana caregivers with five patients each, but that they co-mingled their plants.
Under the state's Medical Marijuana Act, patients can have 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana and caregivers can grow up to 12 plants producing 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana for each of their five patients and themselves. With both Dabrowskis being caregivers, but only Sandra Dabrowski a patient as well, the couple could legally have a total of 132 plants and 27.5 grams of usable, or processed, marijuana.
Defense attorney Matthew L. Reyes described his client as a "hard-working, down to earth, regular guy" who has spent years donating his time and money to community organizations.
"Like many people, he finds himself thinking he's doing this all correctly according to the statute," Reyes said.
The statute can be confusing to lawyers, and holds laypeople who become caregivers to an unprecedented level of responsibility, Reyes said.
"We've spent the last two years talking about the statute, how weights are calculated differently by different people, how stems don't count but dried marijuana does," Reyes continued, adding that while Dabrowski made mistakes, they were not intentional.
Bay County Circuit Judge Joseph K. Sheeran said he is aware of the statute's complexities.
"The way it was drafted, it was almost intentionally drafted to be as vague and have as much confusion as possible," Sheeran said.
Sheeran ended up going along with a plea agreement for Dabrowski's sentencing to be delayed until Feb. 12. In the interim, Dabrowski is effectively on probation. He is not to possess or use marijuana, even in according with the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, Sheeran ruled.
If Dabrowski is compliant with his delay, he'll be allowed to withdraw his felony plea and instead plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of possession of marijuana.