Marijuana law’s legal ambiguity ‘unfortunate’

61-year-old man could become statute test case

The state’s medical marijuana law is often described as ambiguous and poorly crafted.

An Oakland County judge called it “one of the worst pieces of legislation I’ve ever seen.”

State lawmakers, prosecutors and legal experts believe the law, which voters passed in 2008 by a wide margin, is intentionally vague – because its supporters and authors want complete legalization.

Among those caught in the middle is Fredrick Wayne Dagit, who is facing prison time and whose case is on hold while the state Court of Appeals decides if it will consider whether his activities were protected under the statute.

“The ambiguity, to me, is extremely unfortunate not only for the community, but also for those people who are trying to take advantage of the statute – they’re going to be sacrificial lambs,” said Thomas M. Cooley law professor Gerald Fisher, an expert the state’s medical marijuana law.

“The ambiguity cuts both ways, and some of them are going to jail.”

Dagit, 61, is facing charges related to supplying marijuana to the Green Leaf Smokers Club, a medical marijuana club in Williamstown Township, as well as other related entities, including the Church for Compassionate Care Ministries.

Dagit is charged with two counts of possession with intent to deliver between 11 and 99 pounds of marijuana, growing 20 or more marijuana plants, and maintaining a drug house. He also faces a misdemeanor possession charge. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.

According to court documents, Dagit bought 67 pounds of marijuana last May for the club, a cooperative that his attorneys say served more than 340 patients and 12 caregivers. He and the confidential informant who sold him the marijuana also agreed to set aside another 50 pounds to be purchased for the cooperative at a later time.

117 pounds for club

Dagit’s attorney, James White, has argued that the purchase of 117 pounds of marijuana using the collective’s money was protected under a provision of the medical marijuana law. That provision says charges should be dismissed if a patient and caregiver collectively possess enough marijuana that is “reasonably necessary to ensure uninterrupted availability” for treatment.

Dagit was protected, according to White’s court filings, “when taking into account the amount of marijuana in Dagit’s possession and the amount reasonably necessary to ensure the uninterrupted availability of medical marijuana to all of the caregivers and patients belonging to the … cooperative.”

The law says registered patients can possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana and 12 marijuana plants for personal use. Authorized caregivers can possess those amounts for up to five patients.

In an interview, White said the state law includes a section about collective possession to address situations like Dagit’s.

“Why else would the language be there, but to protect individuals who fell outside the strict language of the statute?” he said.

Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III – who said he supports medical marijuana – is among those who believe the creators of the legislation wrote a vague and ambiguous law with the hope of eventually legalizing marijuana in the state. The result, Dunnings said, has been chaos, where nearly every issue has to be litigated, and “people are trying to use these gray areas to drive an armored tank battalion through the loopholes of the law – because the loopholes are that big.”

The creators of the medical marijuana act, he said, “put their political agenda ahead of the true needs of people who need access to medical marijuana.”

‘Wiggle room’

The law was largely written by the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit, which has a stated goal of wanting to “change state laws to reduce or eliminate penalties for the medical and non-medical use of marijuana.”

Karen O’Keefe, the nonprofit’s director of state policies, was the primary writer. O’Keefe, who worked with a Michigan group, said she left “a little wiggle room” in the law, so a patient who needed more medicine would be able to get it.

O’Keefe denied that the organization was pushing an agenda, saying that legalization is a separate issue. “I don’t want people, under Michigan’s medical marijuana law, to use it for nonmedical purposes,” she said.

Legislative efforts already are under way to clarify the law, and impose regulations.

State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, has reintroduced legislation to ban “medical marijuana bars,” or dispensaries that allow patients to buy marijuana and consume it on site.

He also has talked of drafting legislation that would tax medical marijuana sales or dispensaries.

“What we’ve got out there now is the wild, wild West,” said Jones, who believes medical marijuana is here to stay.

Not all supportive

Robin Schneider, owner of Lansing’s Capitol City Compassion Club and spokeswoman for a national group that advocates for marijuana dispensaries, said many caregivers she knows don’t support people such as Dagit. There are local caregivers, she said, who can’t get rid of the 15 ounces they are allowed to have legally.

“We don’t need anybody bringing in hundreds of pounds from anywhere,” Schneider said. “It takes money away from the caregivers who are trying to do this legally. Most of our community looks at that as taking a shortcut.”

East Lansing attorney Mike Nichols, who represents medical marijuana patients, doesn’t agree that the law is vague or ambiguous. The courts will sort out areas in the law where guidance is needed, he said.

Some people “are stretching the boundaries to test the limits of the law, and to fill in the gaps of what it means to be a patient or caregiver,” he said.

“And you also have manipulators and con artists or people wanting to make a buck and justify abusing or selling a commodity.”

via : Lansing State Journal

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