Appeals court blocks ordinances that ban medical marijuana growing

Medical marijuana ordinances in three Metro Detroit municipalities could get scrapped after the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled cities cannot enact local laws that criminalize patients’ legal use of the drug. In a ruling issued Wednesday, a three-judge panel overturned an ordinance enacted by the city of Wyoming — a Grand Rapids suburb — that sought to prohibit cultivation of medical marijuana based on federal prohibitions against manufacturing and distributing cannabis.

“Defendant’s ordinance is void and unenforceable to the extent that it purports to sanction the medical use of marijuana in conformity with” the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, appeals judges Joel P. Hoekstra, Douglas B. Shapiro and William C. Whitbeck wrote in an opinion handed down Tuesday and released Wednesday. The ruling could have broad implications for communities seeking to regulate medical marijuana growing and distribution through zoning ordinances in the legal battles over the 2008 voter-enacted law.

The ACLU of Michigan has challenged similar ordinances in Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Livonia. “This really will put an end to those ordinances, as well,” said Dan Korobkin, staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan. Wyoming’s ordinance was based upon Livonia’s law, Livonia City Attorney Don Knapp said. “Obviously, this is not good for us,” Knapp said.

John Ter Beek, a 60-year-old diabetic from Wyoming, has been a registered medical marijuana patient since May 2009 and grows his own cannabis at home, as permitted under the law. He sued to challenge a Wyoming ordinance implemented in November 2010 that made marijuana cultivation a zoning violation.

The appellate court ruled the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act gives qualified patients immunity from municipal zoning sanctions. The judges also concluded the state medical marijuana law’s limited immunity for patients does not interfere with federal enforcement of controlled substances laws.

“It will keep other communities from banning medical marijuana,” Ter Beek told The Detroit News. It’s unclear whether Wyoming will appeal the ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court, which ruled in May that patients are protected from prosecution even if they have not obtained a state medical marijuana card. Wyoming officials could not be reached for comment.

Last summer, a separate appeals panel ruled the sale of marijuana at dispensaries was not allowed under the law. That case, involving a Mount Pleasant medical marijuana dispensary, is expected to be argued before the Supreme Court later this year. “If there’s any sort of good news in all of this, I don’t think you’re going to see medical marijuana dispensaries pop up (in Livonia),” Knapp said.

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