LANSING – The FBI and a federal grand jury have been investigating former Republican Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson for more than two years for suspicion of taking bribes in return for awarding medical marijuana licenses, reports The Detroit News.
According to three sources familiar with the matter, who chose to remain anonymous, the investigation is covering nearly two years (from May 2017 through April 2019) of Johnson’s tenure as chairman of the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board. So, far Johnson has not been charged but court records — “United States of America vs Johnson, Rick V” — obtained by the outlet confirm the federal investigation is underway. Johnson has not responded to questions for comment, the outlet added.
Former Governor Snyder appointed Johnson to be chairman of the licensing board in May 2017, even though Johnson had previously been a marijuana lobbyist. The Snyder controversy started back then.
At that time, Brandon Dillon, then-chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said, “It just smacks of corruption.”
The licensing board had the authority to choose which businesses could get into the cannabis space first, therefore, Johnson, as a chairman, had influence over the board and its decisions.
The investigation is covering nearly two years (from May 2017 through April 2019) of Johnson’s tenure as chairman of the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board.
Gov. Whitmer stepped in and issued an executive order eliminating the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board in 2019, establishing a new state agency.
“This executive order will eliminate inefficiencies that have made it difficult to meet the needs of Michigan’s medical marijuana patients,” Whitmer said at the time.
Johnson was the House speaker from 2001 to 2004. Before joining the marijuana licensing board he worked as a lobbyist with Dodak Johnson in Lansing with former House Speaker Lewis Dodak.
In 2020, after the board was eliminated, Johnson again registered as a lobbyist.
In response to the news, State Rep. Erin Byrnes (D-Dearborn), chair of the House Ethics and Oversight Committee, issued the following statement:
“The news surrounding former Speaker Rick Johnson is alarming and deeply troubling. We have seen concerns regarding a lack of accountability in the legislature arise time and time again. As chair of the House Ethics and Oversight Committee, I plan to use instances like this to generate change for a more ethical and transparent model of leadership. I, along with my Democratic colleagues in the House, believe that elected officials and leadership should be held to the highest standards, and that no one is above the law.”
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