Attorney: Medical marijuana ruling a 'big shakeup'

9:24 PM, May 22, 2013   |    comments
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LANSING, Mich. (The State Journal) - Medical marijuana patients can't be prosecuted for merely driving with the drug in their system, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

Local attorney Mike Nichols called it "a big shakeup in the world of drunk driving law."

"The opinion," Nichols said in a statement, "is consistent with what scientific and medical studies have shown for years - there is no 'number' or 'concentration' of THC in human blood that automatically equals impairment."

In a unanimous opinion released Tuesday, the court overturned an appeals court decision in the case of a Grand Traverse County man. He was stopped in 2010 for speeding - nearly 30 mph over the limit.

The man, who had a valid medical marijuana card, admitted having smoked marijuana several hours earlier, and a blood test revealed the drug in his system. He was charged with driving while having the presence of a controlled substance in his body.

That charge was dismissed in district court, but the Michigan Court of Appeals reinstated it, saying that under the state's vehicle code, "any amount of a schedule 1 controlled substance, including marijuana, sufficiently influences a person's driving ability.

The state Supreme Court reversed that ruling, saying the state's medical marijuana law, which was approved in 2008, supersedes the vehicle code.

The medical marijuana law "shields registered patients from prosecution for the internal possession of marijuana," according to the opinion.

The high court said authorities must show that a driver actually was "under the influence" of marijuana before that person can be charged.

Matt Newburg, one of the attorneys who represented the Grand Traverse County man in the Supreme Court, said medical marijuana users essentially had been forbidden from driving, because marijuana can be present in someone's system for days after it is ingested.

Now, a law enforcement officer has to show that a person's operation of their vehicle was affected in some way.

"It's no longer, 'this guy was driving right down the center of the lane, fine. But he had medical marijuana in his system and must have been high,'" Newburg said.

The court noted that although the medical marijuana law prohibits driving "while under the influence of marijuana," it fails to specify what level of marijuana in the body constitutes being "under the influence."

The court suggested lawmakers consider setting a marijuana limit, similar to a blood alcohol level.

By Kevin Grasha, Lansing State Journal

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