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Appeals Court Clarifies Marijuana Transportation Law

Clarkston Legal Dec. 27, 2016

This post highlights a case decided last week by the Michigan Court of Appeals that involves the intersection of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act and the Marijuana Transportation Act.

Michiganders have been pushing for the legalization of marijuana in the state for years. To date, the legislature has only responded to their pleas by passing statutes legalizing its use for medicinal purposes and, most recently, clarifying the laws for commercial production, medical dispensation facilities, transport, and seed to sale tracking.

The most recent legislation cleared up the legal gray area surrounding commercial transport of medical marijuana by creating a transport license under the revised act. That license, however, comes at a significant cost from both the state and the local licensing authorities.

Until recently, questions about the transport of medical marijuana for personal use went unanswered in the law. Seemingly, there was no definitive answer in the Act or in the cases interpreting the Act regarding whether a medical marijuana patient or caregiver could transport medical marijuana to its final destination to be used by the patient.

The conundrum surrounding transport of medical marijuana for personal use was created by the passage of 2012 PA 460. That statute limited the legal transport of medical marijuana to an enclosed case carried in the trunk of a vehicle or in an inaccessible case in a vehicle with no trunk.

Patients who were otherwise in compliance with the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA) were being cited under the newer transportation act and charged with a misdemeanor, even though they had not violated any section of the MMMA. A recently published Michigan Court of Appeals case has clarified enforcement of the marijuana transportation act in conjunction with the MMMA.

In People v. Latz, (Docket No. 328274, decided December 20, 2016), the Court addressed whether enforcement of the marijuana transportation act was preempted by the MMMA’s broad immunity from prosecution of those statutes inconsistent with the MMMA.

Earlier published decisions ruled that those statutes which preceded the passage of the MMMA were superseded by its enactment into law. In the Latz case, however, the Court was asked to determine the legality of a later statute, the marijuana transportation act, which sought to place additional restrictions on the transport of medical marijuana; an otherwise legal activity.

The Court of Appeals determined that those additional requirements, which punished patients and caregivers otherwise in compliance with the MMMA, were impermissible because they were not part of the MMMA itself. The Court has routinely reinforced the broad immunity granted to law abiding patients and caregivers and has extended those protections here.

The opinion seems to support the growing acceptance of marijuana state and nation wide for medicinal purposes (even alluding to recreational) and to reflect the will of an ever growing percentage of the people. Given the passage of a series of laws just a few months ago, legalizing high-volume marijuana production operations, dispensaries, transportation and testing, this was a much needed clarification of the growing body of common law addressing medical marijuana.

Since its passage, law enforcement and prosecutors have been using the transportation act to obtain convictions of otherwise compliant MMMA patients and caregivers. The Act has been widely seen as a tool to re-criminalize the possession of medical marijuana which goes along with law enforcement’s archaic view that the substance has no medicinal value, and to generate revenue for the municipality. Often, those charges have gone unchallenged due to the potential for jail time associated with the misdemeanor nature of the punishment.

Many district and circuit court judges have sided with MMMA patients when faced with prosecutions based on alleged violations of the marijuana transportation act. The Latz case, however, gives patients and caregivers the comfort of knowing that as long as they comply with the tenets of the MMMA, they also are immune from prosecution under the transportation act.

This case will not stop local law enforcement from issuing citations under the marijuana transportation statute. Nor will it prevent prosecutors who are unaware of Latz from seeking convictions under the transportation act.

If you are charged with a crime under the marijuana transportation act, it is imperative that you seek competent legal assistance to get the charges dismissed. We are an experienced law firm on the cutting edge of the evolution of medical marijuana.

Give us a call to schedule a free consultation if you are affected by these emerging evolving laws.