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Unanimous Michigan Supreme Court Decision Upholds Voters' Intent of Medical Marijuana Law

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On Thursday, May 31, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously agreed to overturn a decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals and protect medical marijuana patients and caregivers, preserving the intent of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA). The highest court in the state, in reviewing two cases -- Larry King in Shiawassee County and Alexander Kolanek in Oakland County -- ruled that registered and unregistered medical marijuana patients and caregivers are entitled to a medical marijuana defense, so long as they meet the requirement of Section 8 of the MMMA.*

The court relied heavily on ballot language, notably to, "permit registered and unregistered patients and primary caregivers to assert medical reasons for using marijuana as a defense to any prosecution involving marijuana." Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved the Act in November 2008.

This admittedly broader interpretation of the law finally follows what many courts have failed to do since the MMMA was enacted -- listen to the will of the people and truly understand the intent of the law. Voters approved the MMMA as a means to help patients and caregivers, protect them from arrest and allow them to achieve a higher quality of life through the use of medical marijuana.

In the last two years since the Court of Appeals decision, patients and caregivers have suffered greatly because of such a narrow interpretation of the law. Many of those cases will undoubtedly be revisited, with patients being properly defended and allowed to rely on a law some judges disallowed in their courtrooms because of personal bias.

Beyond the aforementioned cases and potential appeals, this decision has a huge impact moving forward for patients, caregivers and law enforcement.

With several bills being debated in the Michigan Senate that could change the MMMA, including one that would provide the names of registered patients to law enforcement officials, the Supreme Court's decision has the power to render them obsolete before being voted on. While many politicians are working diligently to pick apart the MMMA by drafting and sponsoring bills to further restrict access and patient protections, the state's highest legal authority is essentially saying their efforts are wrong.

If HB 4834 were to be passed, providing patient medical information to law enforcement, new and re-applying patients can avoid potential conflict by simply not sending their paperwork in to the state. The Court's decision allows for those with an established doctor-patient relationship to present a medical marijuana defense, regardless of status with the state.

Currently, the MMMA protects patients in Section 6h by guaranteeing confidentiality and exemption from the Freedom of Information Act. Imagine being pulled over, and instead of being issued a warning or a ticket, the officer has access to your entire medical history, and uses it against you. The medical marihuana registry must remain confidential in order for the MMMA to work, and for patients to trust in it.

The bill passing could encourage patients to no longer apply to the state, but still go through the registration and medical processes to protect themselves, resulting in fewer applications and less money for the state. Politicians may not realize it now, but the bills they are attempting to pass are not doing anything to regulate medical marijuana, only making it more dangerous for already scared patients trying to find relief.

The timing of the Supreme Court's decision also couldn't be more poetic, and comes when the state's patients and caregivers are being harassed more than ever. With this ruling, Michigan legislators should shelve all the proposed medical marijuana bills and reevaluate the true issues -- making medical marijuana access better and safer for patients, protecting the law of the people and setting their personal agendas aside in a quest to better serve their constituents.

It will be interesting to see how police and prosecutors handle future medical marijuana cases in light of the Supreme Court's decision, now that each case will potentially be evaluated by juries made up of the same voting public who approved the Act.

*Section 8 - Except as provided in section 7, a patient and a patient's primary caregiver, if any, may assert the medical purpose for using marihuana as a defense to any prosecution involving marihuana, and this defense shall be presumed valid