Former House Speaker Rick Johnson talks during a session on Dec. 16, 2003, in Lansing, Michigan. (AP Photo / Al Goldis, File)
A Republican former speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives has admitted he took $110,000 in bribes to steer medical marijuana licenses to allies while he served as chairman of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board.According to court documents, former speaker Rick Johnson took bribes from two lobbyists and a businessman who sought to get medical marijuana licenses, and in exchange supplied them with “valuable non-public information about the anticipated rules and operation” of the board he chaired from from 2017 through 2019. He also voted to approve their licenses.Johnson and three businessmen who bribed him all pleaded guilty to the charges, according to an agreement filed in federal court. The bribes included cash payments and free travel on the businessman’s private plane.Under the plea agreement, Johnson faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison as well as a $250,000 fine on top of forfeiting the bribes he received. In exchange for his guilty plea and ongoing cooperation in the FBI’s investigation, the state won’t object to a lesser sentence for Johnson and won’t criminally change his wife for her role in accepting the bribes. Johnson and the men who bribed him have yet to be sentenced. The plea agreement also indicates that more people may face charges. Johnson served as speaker of the Michigan House from 2001 to 2004, then spent more than a decade as a lobbyist—including working on the medical marijuana legalization bill. He was appointed by then-GOP Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board to help the state set up its newly legalized medical marijuana program in May 2017 over bipartisan objections over potential conflicts of interest because of his lobbying work. He served as its chairman until April 2019, when Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer disbanded the board because it was no longer necessary—Michigan voters had approved full marijuana legalization.“Public corruption is a poison to any democracy. Those who wield the power of state have a sacred obligation to serve the people they represent. But when a government official takes a bribe, they spurn that solemn duty–in favor of the connected, the crooked, and ultimately themselves,” U.S. Attorney Mark Totten said in a press release announcing the plea agreement.