By Anne Stanton
Medical marijuana grower and Cecil Drost was able to drive off for a Florida vacation last week instead of going to jail, relieved that Charlevoix prosecutor John Jarema decided to drop all charges against him.
But Drost anxiously wonders if he’ll be compensated for the estimated $100,000 worth of medical marijuana plants that were seized in the raid.
Drost’s 32 plants were destroyed on Sept. 20 after the Joint Operational Law Enforcement (JOLT) multijurisdictional drug team flew over Drost’s property in a black helicopter. Shortly afterward, five JOLT officers entered Drost’s property next door to his home, where he has a barn, an RV, and an enclosed and locked steel mesh hoop house covered by a white tarp and surrounded by a 6-foot-tall chain-link fence. It was here that Drost grew marijuana plants for himself and two other medical marijuana patients.
Rite deputies edged around a locked power gate that was blocking his driveway and went on Drost’s property without a search warrant at about 1:45 p.m. More than two hours later, they persuaded Assistant Prosecutor Shaynee Fanara to sign a search warrant by reporting to her that they had found marijuana growing behind a tarp and “a fence with large open holes in it.”
Drost’s defense attorney, Jesse Williams, said the report of holes in the fence was a “complete fabrication.” In documents filed with the court, using photographs as proof, deputies seized and destroyed all 32 plants.
At the last minute, the prosecutor asked for a promise from Drost to put chicken wire over the roof of the hoop house. Williams said he readily agreed because it meant that deputies would “never mess with Cecil again. Putting that on the record is a safeguard for Cecil. Now he can have a whole outdoor, rose operation unique to the whole state, and he won’t have to continue his dope.”
Drost said after the trial that he didn’t believe the chicken wire would make the hoop house any more secure. Someone would need a 14-foot arm with multiple joints to reach over the 6-foot chain-link fence and through another fence with wider holes than a chicken fence to get to the plants inside, he said.
The Express ran an article about domestic troubles in its Oct. 11 issue, along with a videotaped interview on Up North TV 97. Following publication, Jarema sniped up the original misdemeanor charge to a four-year felony of delivery and manufacture of a controlled substance, according to court documents signed on Oct. 19.
Jarema eventually reduced the felony charge to the original misdemeanor violation of health department regulations after talking to Williams.
Williams asked the court to dismiss the misdemeanor charge, alleging that the search warrant was obtained on false premises. Along with erroneously asserting there were holes in the fence. Charlevoix Sheriff’s Deputy William Church wrote that “the hemp helicopter spotted marijuana growing” on the defendant’s property. Williams argued that a “helicopter cannot visually spot marijuana.” He added that the law does not require that medical marijuana plants be visible from the air space, but only in a locked and secure enclosure, according to documents filed with the court.
He also said that Durst presented medical marijuana cards for a legal number of plants, which should have protected him from arrest or prosecution, according to the law. The deputies failed to mention to Fanara that Durst was a caregiver and had shown them the cards.
Jarema said in an interview that deputies did not need a search warrant because they spotted marijuana from the helicopter, and had no way of knowing that Drost was a legal caregiver while he presented his state-approved case once they were on the property. At that point, they could see a marijuana plant sticking out between the six-foot fence and hoop house.
Both Jarema and Williams said after the trial that they felt the resolution of the case was fair, based on the facts.
Drost was grateful. “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” he said, just before leaving the courthouse. “It’s been a bunch of crap for everybody – family and friends.”