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Michigan attorney general files criminal charges in pot for votes scandal

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson announced Monday they had filed charges against the owner of a Lansing medical marijuana dispensary who allegedly offered free pot for registering to vote.

Skekina Pena, owner of Your Healthy Choice Clinic, was arraigned Monday at 54-A District Court for “influencing voters with Money or other valuable consideration.” Pena was released on a personal bond of $3,500.

The scandal broke at the end of July, days before a Lansing City Council primary election. At that time, Pena posted a notice on her website explaining her goals for a voter registration drive:

Protect Your Access! Vote 2011:

All dispensaries are doing a voter registration drive. If you sign up at Your Healthy Choice, we will assist you in filling out the registration form and will mail it out for you. We believe in power in numbers and everyone taking a stand. So in appreciation, we will reward legal patients with a .5 gram free or a free medible! I’m planning an event for the preliminary voting that will have shuttles to the polls! We have to amend our Lansing ordinance! May God bless our efforts!

The webpage then encourages readers to support Lansing City Council candidates Derrick Quinney, A’Lynne Robinson and Harold Leeman. It also encourages readers to vote against City Council candidates Carol Wood and Jody Washington.

In an interview with Michigan Messenger in July, Pena denied she was offering the medibles or marijuana in exchange for specific votes.

“If they fill [the voter registration form] out, we are offering a compensation of a discount on their purchases that day,” Pena told Michigan Messenger. “That’s it. To help out those who wasted their gas to come in here.”

The dispensary is located on Michigan Avenue, six blocks from the state Capitol.

The case allowed Schuette, who ran the campaign opposing legalization of medical marijuana in 2008, the opportunity to go after the medication and its suppliers again. Schuette has been involved in court actions to weaken the law and protections they provide.

In a press release, he had this to say:

“Voters did not intend for marijuana to be handed out as a door prize, especially when it undermines the integrity of our elections process,” said Schuette. “Secretary of State Johnson and I will work to ensure that Michigan election law is followed.”

Johnson, had this to say:

“Integrity in elections is sacred to democracy,” said Johnson, who has made election reform a top priority for the Michigan Department of State. “The intent of their actions was clear – they offered their customers marijuana in exchange for voter registration. They also supplied a slate of their preferred candidates. This goes beyond election shenanigans. They should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Michigan Election Law prohibits the provision of anything of value in order to induce or influence the manner of voting (MCL 168.931(1)(a)). Such violations are misdemeanors punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

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