Police and prosecutors are seizing on gray areas in Michigan’s three-year-old medical marijuana law to shut down dispensaries and disrupt the treatment of patients, Oakland County criminal defense attorney Paul J. Tafelski said last week.
“While our law firm does not condone illegal drug use, we do believe that medical marijuana patients and caregivers have rights under state law that were given to them by our voters, and those rights need to be respected,” said Tafelski, founder of Paul J. Tafelski, P.C., a Bloomfield Hills criminal defense law firm that represents clients charged with drug possession and other felony or misdemeanor offenses.
“Based on recent developments, I don’t think officials are respecting those rights.”
Voters approved the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) in November 2008. The law allows for patients with a “debilitating medical condition” to use medical marijuana and for the patients’ primary caregivers to assist with the use, including charging a reasonable fee for their services.
Patients are restricted to possession of 2.5 ounces or less of marijuana that is used for medical purposes, while caregivers are limited to 2.5 ounces and 12 or less plants per patient. Caregivers must also keep all plants in an “enclosed, locked facility.”
Both patients and caregivers must go through a registration process with the state’s Bureau of Health Professions, which according to its website, has issued more than 105,000 registration cards since the program started.
However, the law is silent on how the patients or primary caregivers can obtain the marijuana, which is still a controlled substance under state and federal law.
After the law passed, medical marijuana dispensaries began to operate throughout the state to assist patients with the medical marijuana use, but a recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision in State v. McQueen (Docket No. 301951, Isabella Circuit Court) and a string of raids in its aftermath has cast doubt on the dispensaries’ future and brought attention to the law’s lack of clarity, Tafelski said.
“Ambiguities in the law are being construed against the interests of the patients this law was designed to assist,” Tafelski said. “So, as a result, we’re seeing the very purpose of the law being frustrated by law enforcement, and we’re seeing criminal charges brought against people who believed they were acting in perfect compliance with the law.”
The Court of Appeals’ decision August 24 in State v. McQueen is an example of what has resulted from the law’s lack of clarity, Tafelski said.
According to the McQueen decision, an Isabella County medical marijuana dispensary, Compassionate Apothecary, allowed its members — all registered patients or caregivers — to purchase marijuana that other members had stored in lockers rented from the dispensary. The dispensary would retain at least 20 percent of each sale price.
A circuit court judge rejected the county prosecuting attorney’s attempt to have the dispensary shut down as a public nuisance in violation of the MMMA and the state’s public health code, but the Court of Appeals reversed.
According to the appeals court, the “medical use” of marijuana, as defined by the MMMA, does not include patient-to-patient “sales” of marijuana.
“It’s clear that there is confusion among the courts, law enforcement and the public,” Tafelski said.
In the wake of the decision, several Michigan medical marijuana facilities have been raided, including sites in Oakland County’s Commerce Township, according to the Detroit Free Press.
“Confusing areas of the law are apparently leading to arrests and injunctions, and if you are charged with a violation of Michigan law that involves marijuana, you could face serious consequences, including a felony conviction,” Tafelski said.
“That’s why it’s important to immediately contact a Michigan criminal defense attorney who has experience with drug possession cases and knows the legal issues involved with Michigan’s medical marijuana law,” he added. “If you are a registered patient or caregiver, what is clear is that you have rights under the law, and those rights must be protected.”
About Paul J. Tafelski, P.C.
The Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, criminal defense law firm of Paul J. Tafelski, P.C., represents clients charged with drunk driving, traffic and other criminal offenses throughout Detroit, Troy, Rochester Hills, West Bloomfield, Bloomfield Hills, Royal Oak, Plymouth, Canton, Wayne County, Oakland County, Macomb County and the state of Michigan. The firm’s practice areas include misdemeanors and felonies, OWI / DUI / DWI, traffic tickets, domestic violence, drug possession, license restoration, criminal sexual conduct, Internet crimes, probation violations, expungement and assault with a dangerous weapon / felonious assault. To learn more about the firm, call (248) 451-2200 or use the firm’s online form.