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Recent Michigan Court of Appeals Decision about Medical Marihuana Dispensaries

Posted by attorney Travis Dafoe

By Travis Dafoe



The Michigan Court of Appeals recently ruled on a case involving a medical-marihuana dispensary in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. (marijuana is also an acceptable spelling) The Court held that patient-to-patient sales are illegal. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) became effective in December 2008. It provides that a qualifying patient may possess 2.5 ounces of marihuana, which includes being able to grow 12 marihuana plants kept in a locked location, and not be subject to arrest or prosecution under state law. Generally, possession of marihuana is still illegal in the state of Michigan; and marihuana possession remains illegal under federal law regardless of medical condition.

The Mt. Pleasant case raised the issue of how a qualifying patient can purchase marihuana. Under the law, a qualifying individual can acquire medical marihuana from a primary caregiver who is also licensed by the state of Michigan. The primary caregiver, like the qualifying patient, is restricted in the amount of marihuana he or she may possess. However, not all qualifying patients want to grow to their own marihuana or have a caregiver grow it. Medical-marijuana dispensaries opened up to provide qualifying patients with medical marihuana. At the dispensaries, patients exchanged or sold medical marihuana with other patients.

Local communities struggled with regulating or licensing the dispensaries. Communities sought to limit the areas where dispensaries could operate, for instance, seeking to keep them away from schools and playgrounds. Communities questioned whether they could seek to have dispensaries closed down as public nuisances. This ruling by the Court clarified the power available to communities to shut dispensaries down entirely.

The Court ruled that patient-to-patient sales are not provided for by MMMA, therefore, those sales are still illegal under Michigan law. The MMMA did not make dispensaries legal, therefore, they are illegal too. The Court held that the MMMA was intended to create a narrow exception to the general law of the State of Michigan that possession and use of Marihuana is illegal; leaving the question of how and where to purchase unanswered.

Prosecutors and the Attorney General of Michigan hailed the decisions as providing law enforcement and local communities with clarification of a vague law. Patients were disappointed because dispensaries had provided a safe means for them to acquire medical marihuana. The issues relating to MMMA will continue to be in the news because the law is controversial and leaves open many questions.

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