Court cases pending to answer questions surrounding medical marijuana law

State voters approved the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act in 2008.  In the two-and-a-half years since, medical marijuana users and state and local officials have begun seeking to resolve questions about the law.

Advocates of medical marijuana say the law allows ample room for interpretation.  But some state and local officials say portions of the law are very clear.

“I think the law set out a very specific framework in which medical marijuana patients could have marijuana; one is to grow their own, or two, to get it from a caregiver,” says Isabella County Prosecutor Larry Burdick.  He filed a case against a Mt. Pleasant organization that facilitates the transfer of medical marijuana among legal users. 

Burdick initiated civil proceedings requesting the court to close the club.  He says the court should answer a very specific question, “whether dispensaries, or compassion clubs, or consignment shops, or whatever you want to call these type of businesses, whether they’re able to distribute medical marijuana to individuals other than their patients.”

Isabella County Circuit Court ruled that this sort of operation is legal, and Burdick has appealed that decision.  The next round of proceedings is pending.

Club operators believe the law accommodates their business.

“Basically, we are a provider of medical marijuana to legally-registered patients,” says Matt Taylor, owner of the club in question in this particular case, Compassionate Apothecary of Mount Pleasant.  He’s also a partner in similar organizations in Traverse City and Lansing.  Taylor says his clubs have a total membership of nearly 2200.

Taylor says without operations like his, patients wouldn’t be able to access medical marijuana as quickly.

“It seems like the current activities have for the most part channelled it in the direction of legitimacy, and the only thing preventing us from getting further down that road are challenges like Burdick’s.  I honestly believe that not just CA (Compassionate Apothecary), but there’s a few other places out there, that are doing this in a way that benefits the state, and benefits the communities that host them.”

While state and local officials say there is some room in the law for interpretation, they also say some of that wriggle room conflicts with other laws.

For example, the Grand Traverse County Prosecutor filed a case against a registered medical marijuana user who drove with marijuana in his system, in violation of the state’s motor vehicle code.  That case is pending appeal after county district and circuit courts ruled in favor of the driver.

Another challenge is in Shiawassee County.  The prosecutor there brought felony possession charges against a registered user who grew his plants in an outdoor dog kennel.  The state Court of Appeals ruled the kennel wasn’t secure enough.

The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the state supreme court to review this case.

“The ACLU of Michigan has long been an advocate for protecting the rights of medical marijuana patients in Michigan,” says ACLU staff attorney Dan Korobkin.  His organization is involved in several other Michigan cases involving medical marijuana.

“We’re involved in an employment lawsuit against Wal-Mart, we’re involved in a lawsuit against several cities in Michigan who have taken it upon themselves to try and ban medical marijuana, even though that’s illegal under state law, and we’ve been involved in advocating for the rights of medical marijuana patients in public housing.”

And just as supporters of medical marijuana have some organizations like the ACLU on their side, law enforcement has support in several cases from Michigan’s Attorney General.

“Attorney General Bill Schuette is making it a great priority to support county prosecutors across the state who are struggling to ensure public safety in the face of a very poorly-written and vague medical marijuana law,” says Attorney General spokesperson Joy Yearout.  She says this is the early stage of working out the questions surrounding this law.

“We’re at the very beginning stages right here, and there are cases all across the state.  Attorney General Schuette is going to continue to work with county prosecutors and use the resources of his office to reign in this law to make sure that it is properly respected and that public safety is ensured.”

The specific details of these cases aside, some say there’s a philosophical element to consider, too.  Some wonder whether these questions ought to be resolved by the courts, or by the legislature.

Isabella County Prosecutor Larry Burdick says he would prefer the legislature to take the lead.  

“I wish the legislature would get back at work on fixing a lot of these uncertainties in the Medical Marijuana Act — they just don’t seem to be able to get at it quite yet.  So that’s why the courts are dealing with this all over the state.  That’s not the best way to do it — it just really isn’t.”

But for now, the judiciary has the first opportunity to  resolve some of these disputes — nearly three years after the law was passed.


State firefighters could be stretched thin this wildfire season

The Department of Natural Resources says its fire fighting resources could be stretched thin this wildfire season.
“We have been having a steady decline of the dedicated fire workforce, the people who’s job it is to do the fire management and do the fire suppression, all those fire activities,” said Paul kollmeyer, fire prevention specialist for the DNR. 
Kollmeyer said the DNR has about 75 fire officers for this coming wildfire season, down from 100 fire officers a decade ago.
He said the reduced numbers will be most noticeable on bad fire days, when officers are fighting multiple fires on multiple fronts.
“We are doing everything we can to try to fill the seats in the trucks to make sure that we can respond,” he said. “But I guess the message is that we will only work as safely as we can. We won’t put single people in a truck just to get the truck out there. We will have to sometimes leave a truck vacant and not have it respond because we don’t have the available people to help us out.”
Kollmeyer said the legislature is considering a bill that would allow the department to recall some retired fire officers to help out during an emergency.
He also said there are many local and federal agencies that are able to assist, if needed.

Michigan marks Wildfire Prevention Week

This week marks wildfire prevention week in Michigan.
There’s still snow on the ground in some areas, but Department of Natural Resources fire prevention specialist Paul Kollmeyer said this time of year is one of the most dangerous when it comes to wildfires.
“Many people don’t realize that there’s a danger,” he said. “Sometimes it’s still cool at night, there’s still some snow piles here and there, and wildfire really isn’t prevalent in their mind. And yet in Michigan, it is the most dangerous time of year for wildfires, simply because of all the dead vegetation that’s out there.”
Kollmeyer is urging residents to use extreme caution when doing any outdoor burning.
That means never leaving a fire unsupervised, and having plenty of water and tools like shovels close by.
According to the DNR, preventing wildfires means burning debris on the right day, when winds are low and dry vegetation isn’t prevalent.
That also means having the necessary tools close by if you are burning outdoors, said Kollmeyer.
“Make sure you have water available, not only to put the fire out when you’re done with your burn, but also in case… there’s a flareup,” he said. 
“A little gust of wind comes up, and it jumps a little bit. Maybe a spark jumps out of where you intended to burn. And when that is a very small thing, if you have the right tools, a shovel, or you’re standing right there and you have that water, you can put it out.”
Kollmeyer said it’s also important to protect your home before a wildfire strikes.
“If you keep your lawn watered and mowed,  that will help slow down a fire, or if it’s green, it could even keep the fire from spreading,” he said. 
Additionally, he recommends raking leaves out from under decks and porches, and not planting trees and other vegetation close to your home.
Kollmeyer said a burn permit is required any time you burn yard waste or debris outdoors. 
South of Mount Pleasant, these can be obtained by calling your local fire department. North of Mount Pleasant, contact the DNR at or toll-free 866-922-2876.
Michigan Burn Permits:

DNR proposes closing 23 state forest campgrounds

The Department of Natural Resources has proposed closing 23 northern Michigan State Forest Campgrounds.
The campgrounds could close as soon as next month.
According to DNR spokesperson Mary Detloff, the sites are rustic, unstaffed, and offer few amenities.
“These are underperforming campgrounds,” Detloff said. “They’re not bringing in a lot of revenue. They’re probably costing us more to operate and maintain than what they’re bringing in.”
Detloff said fiscal considerations are behind the proposal to close the campgrounds.
“General fund money has traditionally been the main source of financial support for our forest recreation program. That’s been cut 63 percent over the last three years,” she said.
Detloff stressed that the proposal does not affect any state parks, and that the state has no plans to close any state park campgrounds.
“The DNR understands and realizes that state parks are huge tourist draws,” she said. “They are huge to the economies at the communities that they are located near. A lot of other states closed their state parks in times of tough budgets. We have done everything we can to keep ours open.”
Detloff said the proposal does not mean an end for camping in Michigan’s state forests. 
“Dispersed camping is still available on any state forest land in the State of Michigan,” she said. “As long as you’re more than a mile away from a campground, you can simply pitch a tent in the woods if that’s what you’re into. That’s allowed, and that’s free.”
The proposal must be approved by the Natural Resources Commission before the closures could take effect. 
That could happen as soon as May 12.
State Forest Campgrounds slated for closure:
  • Baraga County – Beaufort and Big Lake state forest campgrounds
  • Cheboygan County – Black Lake Trail Camp
  • Chippewa County – Lime Island State Forest Campground and Cabins and Munuscong River State Forest Campground
  • Crawford County – Manistee River Bridge State Forest Campground
  • Iron County – Deer Lake State Forest Campground
  • Lake County – Bray Creek State Forest Campground
  • Luce County – Blind Sucker #1, High Bridge, Holland Lake, Natalie and Reed & Green Bridge state forest campgrounds
  • Macinac County – Black River State Forest Campground
  • Montmorency County – Little Wolf Lake State Forest Campground
  • Oscoda County – McCollum Lake State Forest Campground
  • Otsego County – Pigeon Bridge and Round Lake state forest campgrounds
  • Schoolcraft County – Canoe Lake, Cusino Lake, Mead Creek and South Gemini Lake state forest campgrounds
  • Wexford County – Long Lake State Forest Campground

Army National Guardsman to march for fallen soldiers

A Genesee County soldier and his wife plan to honor fallen members of the armed forces Saturday morning, with a march in memory of men and women who have given their lives for country.

Richard Dunkley is a second lieutenant in the Army National Guard.  He and his wife modeled the march after a similar event in Tennessee.

“I was inspired by an article I read about a master sergeant in Tennessee who, after coming back from Iraq, felt the need to go out and honor his fallen soldiers.  So he went out with a flag and his uniform, and started marching.  He dedicated one mile to each soldier.  They lost nine soldiers on his tour in Iraq.”

Lieutenant Dunkley says the length of Saturday’s march didn’t originally have special meaning, but after planning the 13-mile route, something came to light that makes the tribute even more meaningful.

“Coincidentally, throughout the planning of this, and working with different people in my battalion as well as outside, independent organizations that help support families of fallen soldiers, we had discovered that my battalion, the 125th Infantry Battalion, has lost to date 13 soldiers.”

Lieutenant Dunkley says anyone is welcome to join the march at nine o’clock Saturday morning, at VFW Post 4642 in Linden.  They’ll walk to Great Lakes National Cemetery in nearby Holly Township.

He says he’s been thinking about his own upcoming deployment to Afghanistan while planning this tribute.

“I want to make sure that, you know, before myself and other soldiers are being deployed, that we honor those who have given their lives before us in both past and present conflicts.  I feel it’s heartfelt that we should honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.”

A potluck is expected to follow the march, and marchers are encouraged to bring a dish to pass.