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Ex-Michigan medical marijuana regulator sentenced for taking bribes

A powerful former Republican politician and medical marijuana regulator in Michigan was sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison for accepting bribes of more than $110,000 while leading the state’s MMJ licensing board.

Rick Johnson, the state’s House speaker from 2001 to 2004, pleaded guilty in federal court in April to accepting bribes while heading the state’s Medical Marijuana Licensing Board from 2017 to 2019.

“I am a corrupt politician,” Johnson told the judge Thursday during his sentencing, the Associated Press reported, citing The Detroit News.

Johnson was also “fined $50,000 for soliciting and accepting bribes” as a former chair of the state’s MMJ regulatory agency and ordered to forfeit an additional $110,200, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office in the Western District of Michigan.

He accepted a minimum of $110,200 in bribes, including cash payments, flights to Canada on private planes and commercial sex paid for by others, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Co-defendants and lobbyists Brian Pierce and Vincent Brown, who referred to Johnson as “Batman” in text messages, also pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges.

They are scheduled to be sentenced for conspiracy to commit bribery on Oct. 18.

John Dalaly, a Detroit-area businessman who paid the bribes as he sought lucrative medical cannabis licenses, was recently sentenced to more than two years in prison.

Johnson led the state’s MMJ licensing board from its inception in 2017 until it was abolished in 2019 by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

At the time, Whitmer and other critics cited the board’s inefficiency and slow pace in approving licenses as reasons for its elimination.

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