Medical marijuana being grown in Sterling Heights
(Photo: William Archie/Detroit Free Press)
Jul 28, 2015
Detroit Free Press - For the ninth time, the Michigan Supreme Court has weighed in on the state’s medical marijuana law, remanding a pair of cases back to Oakland County Circuit Court to have another hearing on whether two men can claim immunity from prosecution for growing and providing weed to people with medical marijuana cards.
Richard Hartwick and Robert Tuttle were charged in 2011 and 2012, respectively, after police raided their homes and found marijuana and plants. Both men had been certified as medical marijuana users, and Hartwick also was certified as a caregiver, growing and selling marijuana to five other people. Tuttle was charged with selling marijuana to three people, but it was unclear if he was a certified caregiver.
In pre-trial motions, both men claimed they should be immune from prosecution because of their medical marijuana user and caregiver status. And they both wanted to assert such a defense. Oakland County Judges Colleen O’Brien and Michael Warren denied the motions for both men, and their decisions were upheld by the state Court of Appeals when attorneys for the two men appealed the rulings.
The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the Oakland judges must hold hearings on the immunity motion. The high court said that the lower court ruling on what type of information a caregiver needed to have before providing marijuana to a patient — such as proof of the doctor-patient relationship and the nature of the patient’s debilitating condition — isn’t a part of the medical marijuana law.
“When Judge O’Brien entered the opinion that said you’ve got to show the medical relationship, we now know we don’t have to do that,” said Fred Miller, Hartwick’s attorney. “I like that part of the ruling. It clarifies a lot of things.”
But the Supreme Court also ruled that the two men couldn’t present an affirmative defense against the charges.
“I’m pleased with the opinion and not terribly surprised by it,” said Oakland County chief deputy Prosecutor Paul Walton. “But I’m going to have to sit down and talk with the prosecutors and see if this changes the complexity of the case at all and I don’t think it will.”
The ruling highlights the confusion surrounding Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Act
, which was passed by voters in 2008. Law enforcement, the state Legislature and local communities have been grappling with how to deal with medical marijuana and how it’s used, manufactured and sold.
The Supreme Court’s opinion also focused on that confusion.
“While the MMMA (Michigan Medical Marihuana Act) has been the law in Michigan for just under seven years, this Court has been called on to give meaning to the MMMA in nine different cases,” the justices wrote. “The many inconsistencies in the law have caused confusion for medical marijuana caregivers and patients, law enforcement, attorneys, and judges, and have consumed valuable public and private resources to interpret and apply it.”
“Particularly, we make no judgment as to the wisdom of the medical use of marijuana in Michigan. This state’s electors have made that determination for us,” they continued. “To that end, we do not attempt to limit or extend the statute’s words. We merely bring them meaning derived from the plain language of the statute.”
The Legislature has been working on bills for three years that would allow communities to approve medical marijuana dispensaries in their towns, as well as set guidelines for the sale of nonsmokable forms of medical marijuana
, such as brownies or oils. And three groups have formed to gather signatures for ballot proposals that would legalize the use and sale of small portions of marijuana in the state.
“We’re still getting acquainted with medical marijuana use as a medicine. It’s going to take some more normalizing before it’s accepted as a normal form of medicine,” said Denise Policella, an attorney with the Cannabis Attorneys of Michigan. “We’re working very hard to get a comprehensive package of laws so we can have a safe, regulated industry, so that cities who so desperately need guidance will get some regulation.”