Michigan Woman in her 80s Recounts Arrest, Jailing for Smoking Medical Marijuana

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Dolores Saltzman, who lives in Lake George, Michigan — population 163 — heard a knock on her door July 13, 2018. She opened it to find Clare County deputy Ashley Gruno standing there.

It was 9 p.m. Gruno notified Saltzman that her great granddaughter’s cell phone and ID had been found. During their exchange, Gruno smelled cannabis and asked who else was in the house.

“I live here alone, and it’s my marijuana,” Saltzman replied. The deputy requested to search the house. She promptly found four roaches and a pipe.

“I only smoke half a joint,” said Saltzman, who told Marijuana.com that she’s been consuming cannabis to alleviate various health conditions for 46 years.

When Saltzman admitted that she’d let her medical marijuana license lapse years ago, Gruno said she’d have to arrest Saltzman.

“It’s mind-boggling, but she was doing her job,” Saltzman said. “I said ‘Honey, if I’m going to jail I need to finish washing the dishes.’ So she helped me clean the kitchen, lock up the house and close the windows.”

Gruno cuffed Saltzman once in the police car but failed to read her Miranda rights.

As she walked into the Clare County Correctional Facility, at least a dozen men hooted from the cells that lined the walls as two police officers grilled the frail octogenarian, fingerprinted her then led her into a jail cell.  “They were protests,” Saltzman recalled, “not catcalls.”

Given a mat and a blanket, Saltzman slept on the cement floor. There was only one bed in the cell and it was taken.

“Holy moly, my arthritis was screaming at me,” said Saltzman, who’d never been in jail. “It was freezing in there.”

Saltzman’s son Mark, who was on the three-way phone conversation with his mother and Marijuana.com, didn’t share his mother’s good nature over the arrest.

“My mother is a tough old bird, but what kind of system removes an 80-year old woman with obvious medical conditions from the safety of her home then charges her with a crime just because her medical marijuana license was expired?” Mark Saltzman asked.

Photography courtesy of Mark Saltzman

Clare County Sheriff John Wilson explained: “Possessing marijuana without a license is illegal, so the officer did what she was supposed to do. Would I have done it differently? Yes, but I am not going to Monday morning quarterback my deputy who is young and inexperienced,” Wilson told Marijuana.com.

At Saltzman’s hearing on Aug. 2, 2018, Clare County Judge Joshua Farrell dismissed the charges.

“As far as I’m concerned the only person who showed common sense in this whole matter was the judge who said ‘Why are we here?’ then entered a not-guilty plea for mom, dropped the charges and let her go home with no fine,” Mark said.

As she awaits her new medical marijuana card, Saltzman said she is in pain from seven major surgeries, diverticulitis, and other conditions.

“Cannabis is a lifesaver for me, especially for treating my arthritis pain,” she said.

“My goal now is to end the stigma of a plant that helps people,” said Saltzman, who is filming a television ad for Michigan’s Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol to encourage people to vote on Nov. 6, 2018, to legalize recreational cannabis.

 

Correction (8/8): The spelling of Clare County deputy Ashley Gruno and Dolores Saltzman’s relation to her great granddaughter has been corrected.

About Author

Maureen Meehan is a 25-year veteran journalist who worked in Latin America, the Middle East and Europe for NBC Radio & TV and numerous U.S., Canadian and European news outlets. She moved back to New York City in 2012 where she began writing for High Times magazine and continues her freelance career. After covering many wars around the world, Meehan finds the War on Drugs among the most perplexing, devastating and misguided.

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