Rick Johnson, the former GOP state House Speaker and Chairman of Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Licensing Board from 2017-2019 has recently been charged with bribery. Along with two lobbyists and a medical cannabis business owner, they are accused of exchanging money for favors related to cannabis licenses. The charges against all parties have raised questions about the regulation and oversight of the industry in Michigan.
Rick Johnson is a Michigan politician who served in the House of Representatives for the 102nd District from 1999 to 2004 and as Speaker of the House from 2001 to 2004. He was a registered lobbyist from 2005 until 2016 and played a role in developing Michigan state’s medical cannabis laws.
As Chairman of the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board, Johnson was responsible for approving or denying applications from medical marijuana businesses. He had been appointed to the board by former Governor Rick Snyder in 2017. However, his appointment raised questions among some due to his prior involvement in Michigan’s cannabis legislation and his status as a registered lobbyist.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer abolished the medical marijuana board in 2019, a few months after taking office, and put oversight of the industry inside a state agency, called the Cannabis Regulatory Agency.
The bribery scheme involving Johnson, Brian Pierce, Vincent Brown (registered lobbyists), and John Dalaly (owner of a medical marijuana business) was uncovered in 2019. According to the charges, Johnson accepted money from Dalaly in exchange for favorable consideration of his application for a license to operate a medical marijuana company. Furthermore, both lobbyists were charged with conspiracy to commit bribery as they assisted in facilitating the transaction between Johnson and Dalaly.
According to the charges, Johnson accepted at least $100,000 in bribes from the defendants over an extended period of time. Dalaly also allegedly made payments to influence Johnson’s actions related to licenses and other matters concerning the marijuana industry in Michigan.
These bribes were paid using false invoices and shell companies created by Pierce and Brown. The exact details of these alleged payments are yet to be determined.
Dalaly had allegedly been making payments to Johnson since 2017 in exchange for favorable consideration of his application for a license to operate a medical marijuana company. Furthermore, he is also accused of making additional payments to influence and reward Johnson’s decisions regarding other matters concerning the marijuana industry in Michigan.
These alleged bribes have questioned the reliability and integrity of Michigan’s cannabis industry and its regulatory structure. However, it remains unclear if further charges will be brought against the parties involved.
Rick Johnson has pleaded guilty to his part in the bribery scheme and is currently facing up to four years of prison time. He will also be required to pay a fine of $25,000 and restitution totaling $50,000. The other three people involved in the case have also been charged with various crimes relating to the bribery scheme.
These charges serve as a reminder that corruption within any industry must not be tolerated, and those willing to take advantage of lax regulations will face significant repercussions if caught. In addition, this case should serve as a warning signal to anyone looking to engage in improper activities involving the legal cannabis industry. If convicted, they could face serious consequences, including but not limited to jail time and hefty fines.
The charges against Johnson, Pierce, Brown, and Dalaly have highlighted the potential for corruption in the legal cannabis market. Such cases could cause more people to be wary of entering the legal cannabis space due to a lack of trust in its regulatory structure.
This can lead to an environment where those willing to take advantage of lax regulations may dominate the industry and limit opportunities for legitimate businesses. Therefore, steps are crucial to ensure that proper oversight is provided to maintain the industry’s integrity and ensure fair access for all participants. The case against Johnson is a reminder of why proper oversight must be maintained for the legal cannabis market to flourish responsibly.
Featured image by Dale G. Young/Detroit News/AP
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