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In Unanimous Decision, Michigan State Supreme Court Rules Michigan Medical Marijuana Act Trumps Motor Vehicle Code; Public Health Code

Posted on | May 22, 2013 | No Comments

With a roaring voice of liberty the Michigan State Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Rodney Lee Koon, a registered qualifying patient in the Michigan Medical Marihuana Program who was charged with driving under the influence of a controlled substance.

Defendant, Rodney Lee Koon, was stopped for speeding in Grand Traverse County. During the traffic stop, defendant voluntarily produced a marijuana pipe and informed the arresting officer that he was a registered patient under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act and was permitted to possess marijuana. A blood test to which defendant voluntarily submitted several hours later revealed that his blood had a THC3 content of 10 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml).

The statute under which the prosecution charged defendant prohibits a person from driving with any amount of marijuana in his or her system: A person, whether licensed or not, shall not operate a vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state if the person has in his or her body any amount of a controlled substance listed in schedule 1 under section 7212 of the public health code, 1978 PA 368, MCL 333.7212, or a rule promulgated under that section, or of a controlled substance described in section 7214(a)(iv) of the public health code, 1978 PA 368, MCL 333.7214.

Despite the Michigan Medical Marihuana enactment, marijuana remains a schedule 1 controlled substance. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, rather than legalizing marijuana, functions by providing registered patients with immunity from prosecution for the medical use of marijuana: A qualifying patient who has been issued and possesses a registry identification card shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner . . . for the medical use of marihuana in accordance with this act, provided that the qualifying patient possesses an amount of marihuana that does not exceed 2.5 ounces of usable marihuana . . . . The statutory definition of “medical use” includes “internal possession.” Therefore, the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act shields registered patients from prosecution for the internal possession of marijuana, provided that the patient does not otherwise possess more than 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana.

But the MMMA does not provide carte blanche to registered patients in their use of marijuana. Indeed, MCL 333.26427(b) provides a list of activities that are not protected by the MMMA. Engaging in one of those activities removes a registered patient from the MMMA’s protection because he or she is no longer acting in accordance with the MMMA. One prohibited activity is driving while under the influence of marijuana: This act shall not permit any person to do any of the following: Operate, navigate, or be in actual physical control of any motor vehicle, aircraft, or motorboat while under the influence of marihuana.

The MMMA, however, does not define what it means to be “under the influence” of marijuana. While we need not set exact parameters of when a person is “under the influence,” we conclude that it contemplates something more than having any amount of marijuana in one’s system and requires some effect on the person. Thus, taking the MMMA’s provisions together, the act’s protections extend to a registered patient who internally possesses marijuana while operating a vehicle unless the patient is under the influence of marijuana. In contrast, the Michigan Vehicle Code’s zero-tolerance provision prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle by a driver with an infinitesimal amount of marijuana in his or her system even if the infinitesimal amount of marijuana has no influence on the driver.

The immunity from prosecution provided under the MMMA to a registered patient who drives with indications of marijuana in his or her system but is not otherwise under the influence of marijuana inescapably conflicts with the Michigan Vehicle Code’s prohibition against a person driving with any amount of marijuana in his or her system. When the MMMA conflicts with another statute, the MMMA provides that “[a]ll other acts and parts of acts inconsistent with [the MMMA] do not apply to the medical use of marihuana . . . .” Consequently, the Michigan Vehicle Code’s zero-tolerance provision, MCL 257.625(8), which is inconsistent with the MMMA, does not apply to the medical use of marijuana. The Court of Appeals incorrectly concluded that defendant could be convicted under MCL 257.625 without proof that he had acted in violation of the MMMA by “operat[ing] . . . [a] motor vehicle . . . while under the influence” of marijuana. If defendant is shown to have been under the influence of marijuana, then the MMMA’s protections will not apply, and the prosecution may seek to convict defendant under any statute of which he was in violation, including MCL 257.625(8).

It goes almost without saying that the MMMA is an imperfect statute, the interpretation of which has repeatedly required this Court’s intervention. Indeed, this case could have been easily resolved if the MMMA had provided a definition of “under the influence.” As the Legislature contemplates amendments to the MMMA, and to the extent it wishes to clarify the specific circumstances under which a registered patient is per se “under the influence” of marijuana, it might consider adopting a “legal limit,” like that applicable to alcohol, establishing when a registered patient is outside the MMMA’s protection. In sum, we conclude that the MMMA is inconsistent with, and therefore supersedes, MCL 257.625(8) unless a registered qualifying patient loses immunity because of his or her failure to act in accordance with the MMMA. Accordingly, in lieu of granting leave to appeal, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals, reinstate the judgment of the Grand Traverse Circuit Court, and remand this case to the 86th District Court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Michigan State Supreme Court – KOON RULING 05-22-2013

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