A prominent former Republican politician and former medical marijuana regulator in Michigan has been sentenced to almost five years in federal prison for accepting bribes totaling more than $110,000 during his tenure as the head of the state's Medical Marijuana Licensing Board. Rick Johnson, who served as the state’s House speaker from 2001 to 2004, pleaded guilty to these charges in federal court in April.
During his sentencing, Johnson candidly admitted his guilt, stating, “I am a corrupt politician," as reported by the Associated Press, citing The Detroit News. In addition to his prison sentence, Johnson was fined $50,000 for soliciting and accepting bribes. He was also ordered to forfeit an additional $110,200. These bribes, which included cash payments, private plane flights to Canada, and commercial sex paid for by others, were accepted by Johnson while he was the chair of the state’s MMJ regulatory agency.
Two of Johnson's associates, lobbyists Brian Pierce and Vincent Brown, who referred to Johnson as "Batman" in their text messages, have also pleaded guilty to charges related to bribery. They are set to be sentenced for conspiracy to commit bribery on October 18. Another individual involved, John Dalaly, a businessman from the Detroit area who paid the bribes as he sought profitable medical cannabis licenses, has recently been sentenced to over two years in prison.
Johnson had led the state’s MMJ licensing board from its establishment in 2017 until it was dissolved in 2019 by Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The decision to dissolve the board was made due to criticism from Whitmer and others, who cited the board’s inefficiency and slow approval process for licenses as reasons for its elimination.