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Medical Marijuana Patients Gain Some Protection From OWI Laws in Michigan Supreme Court Ruling

May 21, 2013 Criminal Law and Procedure

The Michigan Supreme Court in People v. Koon ruled that medical marijuana patients cannot be convicted of a zero-tolerance law that prohibits drivers from having any amount of marijuana in their blood stream.

For a medical marijuana patient to be convicted of an operating while impaired offense involving marijuana the prosecution must now prove that the driver was actually under the influence of marijuana while driving.

“While we need not set the exact parameters of when a person is ‘under the influence,’ we conclude that it contemplates something more than having any amount of marijuana in one’s system and requires some effect on the person,” wrote the Court in a per curiam opinion.

Koon was pulled over for speeding in Grand Traverse County. He told the police officer that he was a registered patient under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act and that he had smoked marijuana five or six hours earlier. Koon consented to a blood test which showed that he had some THC in his blood.

Related: The Washtenaw County Circuit Court Rules that City Zoning Laws Are Not Preempted by The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.

Koon was charged with operating a motor vehicle with the presence of a schedule 1 substance in his body, which allows for a conviction where a schedule 1 substance is present in the blood, regardless of whether the driver was actually under the influence of the drug while driving.

At trial, Koon argued that the zero-tolerance provision under which he was charged did not apply to an MMMA patient, pointing out that so long as a patient does not drive under the influence, the patient is permitted to have marijuana in the body.

Related: The Ingham County Circuit Court Rules in Favor of Unemployment Benefits for Medical Marijuana Patients

The district and circuit courts agreed, but the Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that it is unsafe for a person to drive with any amount of marijuana in his or her system.

The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act provides immunity from prosecution where a registered patient possesses and uses marijuana in accordance with the MMMA.  The MMMA withholds its protections where a patient uses marijuana in certain situations, including driving under the influence of marijuana.

Michigan law prohibits driving with marijuana present in the blood stream. Known as a zero-tolerance approach, any amount of marijuana or other schedule 1 substance in the blood at all is a per se violation of the law.

The MMMA, however, preempts laws that concern the medical use of marijuana and are inconsistent with the MMMA.  Therefore, the zero-tolerance law concerning drugs and driving is not applicable to medical marijuana patients.

This means that for a registered medical marijuana patient to be convicted of operating while impaired by marijuana the prosecution must prove that the patient was in fact ‘under the influence’ while driving.

Read ArborYpsi Law’s Michigan Medical Marihuana Act Blog

The Court suggested that the Legislature enact a law defining a ‘legal limit’ for marijuana use under which a patient could drive without being considered under the influence, similar to the legal limit for drinking and driving.

Contact ArborYpsi Law at 734-883-9584 or at bernstein@arborypsilaw.com to speak with attorney Sam Bernstein

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