Michigan Court of Appeals rules commercial marijuana sales illegal
Most medical marijuana dispensaries on Michigan Avenue in Lansing, many of which are used by student patients because of their proximity to campus and accessibility, remain closed after the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled commercial marijuana sales illegal Wednesday.
The ruling came a week prior to the start of the fall semester, forcing dispensaries to shutter their doors just before students began descending on campus this weekend. Now, student patients returning to campus in the following days will need to find an open dispensary, or turn to caregivers — legally-certified marijuana growers 21 years of age or older — who will agree to add them as a patient.
“It’s totally going to change everything,” said Jonathan Beagley, a 2011 alumnus and founder of MSU’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Beagley, who also is a medical marijuana patient, said he has had trouble with unreliable caregivers in the past; they will agree to add him as a patient, then fall through at the last minute.
“The caregiver system is really not very workable,” he said.
It is unclear how long dispensaries will remain closed, as the ruling likely will be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The Court of Appeals ruled commercial patient-to-patient transfers illegal, setting a legal precedent based on a conflict regarding a Mount Pleasant dispensary. The decision came after criticism from Attorney General Bill Schuette and groups of Republican lawmakers who said the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act passed in 2008 contains gaping holes and does not legally allow dispensaries to exist.
Now it is up to dispensary owners to decide whether they want to remain open, risking a potential raid, said Dave Clark, an Okemos Attorney who specializes in medical marijuana law.
Colette Mott, an employee at Compassionate Apothecary in Lansing — a sister dispensary of the Mount Pleasant establishment whose legal conflict led to the ruling — said the dispensary will remain closed indefinitely, although owners are allowing caregivers to retrieve their marijuana plants from the building.
An employee at Top Shelf Budz, who declined to give his name, said the dispensary’s owners currently are looking to rework their business model in an effort to reopen legally.
Although the ruling won’t have an immediate effect on East Lansing itself, as there are no dispensaries open within the city limits, it could halt the development of the area’s fledgling medical marijuana industry. Currently, the first East Lansing dispensary application is working its way through the city and is set to come before the city council in a public hearing on Sept. 6. But the planned dispensary already might be on its last dying breath. On July 27, the planning commission unanimously recommended the council ban the dispensary from opening because the plans violated parking codes and the dispensary would be located too closely to a drug rehabilitation counseling center.
The city council held a moratorium on dispensaries most of last year, before adopting an ordinance in March that restricts dispensaries from opening in downtown business districts, allowing them only to operate in office zones mostly north of Lake Lansing Road.
Clark said the ruling does not necessarily mean an end to dispensaries, although many have already closed temporarily. Based on the way the marijuana transaction occurs in each establishment, some might be able to stay open, particularly those who don’t rely on the patient-to-patient model banned by the ruling.
But he said, as a sign from this most recent case, courts are edging closer to setting further precedents that would set all dispensaries up in smoke, such as banning caregiver to non-connected patient sales.
“If that’s the ruling, then dispensaries are pretty much done,” Clark said.
Enforcement already is somewhat hardlined.
The Lansing State Journal reported raids on two Ann Arbor marijuana dispensaries, although authorities said they were not related to Court of Appeals ruling. The same day, the Mount Pleasant dispensary at the center of the dispute was issued a cease and desist order, forced to close. The ruling states dispensaries can be shut down under Michigan’s public nuisance law.
Robin Schneider, a spokeswoman for a dispensary advocacy group, said the law will put patients in danger, forcing them to find marijuana from unsafe and potentially illegal sources. There are not enough reliable caregivers in Michigan to provide a steady stream for patients, she said.
“I’m in shock right now,” Schneider said. “We’ve pushed people out on the streets and back in the neighborhoods to get their medicine illegally.”
Schuette, who has long been an opponent of the Medical Marihuana Act, praised the ruling, saying it is a victory for community safety.
“This ruling is a huge victory for public safety and Michigan communities struggling with an invasion of pot shops near their schools, homes and churches,” Schuette said in a statement. “Today the court echoed the concerns of law enforcement, clarifying that this law is narrowly focused to help the seriously ill, not the creation of a marijuana free-for-all.”