Marijuana Lobbyists Sentenced for Bribery Scheme in Michigan

A top regulator was paid bribes to facilitate licenses for Michigan's lucrative medical marijuana market.

This story was reprinted with permission from Crain’s Detroit and written by David Eggert.

Two lobbyists for marijuana companies were sentenced to federal prison Wednesday for their roles in a scheme in which a top regulator was paid bribes to facilitate licenses to enter Michigan’s lucrative medical marijuana market.

Brian Pierce, 45, of Midland, Michigan, got two years and a $25,000 fine from U.S. District Judge Jane Beckering in Grand Rapids. Vincent Brown, 33, of Royal Oak, received 20 months and a $25,000 fine.

Their hearings came after Rick Johnson, a former House speaker-turned-lobbyist who chaired the now-defunct Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, and West Bloomfield businessman John Dalaly were sentenced last month.

In April, Pierce and Brown pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bribery. According to their plea agreements, they did lobbying work together via Philip Alan Brown Consulting and Michigan Grower’s Consultants on behalf of various businesses that sought licenses from the board that was created to regulate the industry under a 2016 law. They helped to give $40,000 in cash to Johnson between 2017 and 2019. At Johnson’s request, Pierce paid $2,000 to a Detroit stripper who was having commercial sex with Johnson.

Mark Totten, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan, said what stands out most to him was a four-word text message Brown sent to a client: “We own the board.”

“Now in fact he didn’t own the board. But he did own the chair of the board. For $40,000 and some free commercial sex, they owned Rick Johnson. … No one should ever own an elected official,” he said.

All four defendants charged to date have been sentenced. Totten, as he has said before, said the investigation is ongoing and may or may not result in charges against other individuals. The statute of limitations for most federal offenses is five years, which could hinder the probe.

Prosecutors have said Johnson and others used his past and current political connections as leverage to obtain nearly $2 million in payments for his lobbying services from individual entities related to the medical marijuana industry prior to his appointment to the board. The marijuana industry, which includes recreational marijuana as of 2019, could see sales top $3 billion in 2023.

Before becoming lobbyists, Pierce and Brown were legislative staffers. Pierce worked for former Rep. Klint Kesto, a Commerce Township Republican who sponsored one of the bills regulating medical marijuana. Brown worked for former Rep. Robert Kosowski of Westland.

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