UNITED STATES NEWS

Former lawmaker who led Michigan marijuana board is sent to prison for bribery

Sep 28, 2023, 2:05 PM

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A man formerly known as a powerful Michigan lawmaker was sentenced Thursday to nearly five years in federal prison for accepting bribes as head of a marijuana licensing board.

Rick Johnson admitted accepting at least $110,000 when he led the board from 2017 to 2019.

“I am a corrupt politician,” Johnson told the judge, according to The Detroit News.

Johnson was a powerful Republican lawmaker years ago, serving as House speaker from 2001 through 2004. He then became a lobbyist, and ultimately chair of a board that reviewed and approved applications to grow and sell marijuana for medical purposes.

U.S. District Judge Jane Beckering sentenced Johnson to about 4.5 years in prison.

“You exploited your power, and you planned it out even before you got the appointment,” Beckering said.

Two lobbyists who referred to Johnson as “Batman” in text messages have also pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges. A Detroit-area businessman who paid bribes, John Dalaly, was recently sentenced to more than two years in prison.

Prosecutors had recommended a nearly six-year prison term for Johnson. In a court filing, they said one of the lobbyists paid for him to have sex with a woman.

“Rick Johnson’s brazen corruption tainted an emerging industry, squandered the public’s trust and scorned a democracy that depends on the rule of law,” U.S. Attorney Mark Totten said after the hearing.

Michigan voters legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 2008. A decade later, voters approved the recreational use of marijuana.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer abolished the medical marijuana board a few months after taking office in 2019 and put oversight of the industry inside a state agency.

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Former lawmaker who led Michigan marijuana board is sent to prison for bribery