Michigan’s medical marijuana law shields patients from prosecution, Supreme Court rules

LANSING — In what advocates for Michigan’s medical marijuana law characterized as a clear-cut victory for patient rights, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday the state’s voter-approved statute protects patients from prosecution even if they have not sought a marijuana registry card. In its first major ruling on the medical marijuana law, the unanimous court said the law expressed the voters’ “intent to permit both registered and unregistered patients to assert medical reasons for using marijuana as a defense to any prosecution involving marijuana.” The ruling came in two cases out of Oakland and Shiawassee counties in which defendants arrested on marijuana charges argued they were immune from prosecution under the statute. Karen O’Keefe, an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which sponsored the 2008 medical marijuana initiative, called the court’s ruling “great.” “That’s the way we wrote it,” she said. In the Oakland County case, the court said the law allows a person arrested on a marijuana-related offense to assert a medical marijuana defense as long the use of marijuana was recommended by a doctor after the law was enacted and before the arrest occurred. But for the defendant in that case, Alexander Kolanek, the court said he could not avail himself of the so-called affirmative defense because his doctor’s recommendation came after his arrest. The affirmative defense allows a person who has been certified to use medical marijuana to use that certification as a defense against prosecution.

In the Shiawassee case, the Supreme Court said defendant Larry King was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the question of whether he met the requirements of a section of the law providing protection to unregistered patients. King’s attorney John Minock said the decision was a clear-cut victory for King and other medical marijuana patients, and a rebuke to overly zealous police and prosecutors who have attempted to enforce the marijuana law in the most restrictive way possible. But Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Bill Schuette, disagreed. Thursday’s ruling “does not legalize marijuana broadly,” she said. Registered patients remain subject to limits on the amount of marijuana they can grow or possess. And all medical marijuana users are required to obtain a doctor’s certification before using marijuana, she said. But the ruling clearly upholds the rights of patients to possess and use marijuana, whether registered with the state Department of Community Health or not. O’Keefe said state certification “still makes sense” for most patients because it allows medical marijuana users to avoid the stress and expense of arrest and prosecution. But the Supreme Court properly determined that the law provides “a safety net” for all legitimate patients, she said. The case decided Thursday was one of several medical marijuana cases pending in Michigan’s appellate courts. Still unresolved are the issues of dispensaries and whether patient-to-patient sales are permitted under the law. Almost all dispensaries closed last year after Schuette issued an opinion that they were not permitted. But Matthew Abel, a leading medical marijuana defense attorney, said that he believes Thursday’s ruling will “disappoint a lot of prosecutors who want to shut it down altogether.” Abel said the Supreme Court has sent a clear signal that medical marijuana is legal in Michigan.

via : Free Detroit Press

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