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Medical marijuana caregiver faces charges for manufacturing marijuana despite having license to grow

NOW: Medical marijuana caregiver faces charges for manufacturing marijuana despite having license to grow

CASS COUNTY, Mich. -- A license issued by the state of Michigan to grow medical marijuana was not enough to explain why a man in Cass County had marijuana growing on his property.

55-year-old Joseph Lorello now faces charges of criminal enterprise and manufacturing marijuana and if convicted, he could face 35 years.

 “We were raided September 11,” Lorello said. “We had a collective marijuana grow with multiple growers.”

Joseph Lorello is licensed to grow up to 72 marijuana plants for medical use by the state of Michigan. Now, he’s lost everything for growing marijuana with that license and could face jail time.

Court documents said informants tipped off police to marijuana at Lorello’s properties and informant’s said there was high traffic in and out of the houses.

“They took everything, they took plants, they took equipment, they took stuff that had nothing to do with medical marijuana.”

Lorello said not all of those marijuana plants were his. Eight other medical marijuana caregivers were growing the marijuana collectively on his properties. Between the 8 of them, they could legally have 576 marijuana plants.

But Lorello’s the only one facing charges. Now, he’s working with his lawyer and his medical marijuana patients to fight back against the charges.

“A lawyer explained to me usually nine times out of 10 when they call something criminal enterprise people involved have encrypted phone,” Lorello said. “We had phones without passwords, we have nothing to hide. There’s no dried marijuana anywhere, there’s no marijuana stored anywhere, there’s no guns, there’s no cash that they found.”

Court documents said there were close to 300 plants at this property on 61st street in Dowagiac but Lorello said there were only close to 150 full-grown marijuana plants at that property. He said seedlings and clones that had not yet flowered in solo cups were counted by police as full marijuana plants

Five other properties were searched Sept. 11 but Lorello said only the properties on 61st Street in Dowagiac, Dean Hill Road in Berrien Springs, and Pipestone Road in Benton Harbor are his.

“It’s not uncommon in other counties for growers to be a collective grow and help each other out and grow collectively and that’s what we were doing,” Lorello said.

The Michigan Medical Marjiuana Association defines a caregiver as someone who works with doctors and their patients to help them acquire marijuana for medical use.

One of Lorello’s patients, Bobbie Gurnsey, suffers from arthritis, fibromyalgia, dementia and common variable immunal deficiency disease. She said marijuana is the only medication that’s helped her.

Gurnsey is shocked by the charges against Lorello.

“It’s for medical marijuana patients; Some of those patients have actually called my attorney and are going to be at the trail,” Lorello said.

This quote is directly from MMMA’s site – “As a registered caregiver, you will be able to purchase marijuana for your patients from any source, be protected from arrest, and receive compensation for the service of procuring the marijuana.”

Lorello’s son and his 18-year-old girlfriend were staying at one of Lorello’s properties when police raided it and now they’re also facing charges.

Vincent Lorello and Jorie Watkins are also facing up to 35 years in prison for criminal enterprise and manufacturing marijuana which they said is for simply helping Lorello water plants and moving them.

“I had just met Vinnie and not even two months later we get raided and thrown in jail,” Jorie Watkins said. “Kinda scared and nervous about everything.”

Court documents explaining the probable cause for Watkin’s and Vincent’s arrests said that neither of them had medical marijuana cards.

Probable cause documents also said Watkins had a notebook with how to take care of the marijuana with her handwriting in it. Vincent was found with an unspecified amount of marijuana in his vehicle, keys to the indoor grow house, a scale and trimming shears.

Lorello’s lawyers said there’s no evidence to Watkin’s or Vincent’s involvement in criminal enterprise or manufacturing marijuana.

Jorie, Vincent and Joseph all have court dates in January and are awaiting their trials.

Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz was reached out to for comment on this case but a response was no received by the time of publication.

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