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.