Judges across the state have been cautioning medical marijuana users against driving ever since the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) went into effect in 2008. Their reasoning? The Michigan Vehicle Code prohibits operating a motor vehicle with any trace of a schedule 1 drug, including marijuana, in one’s system. Now the Michigan Supreme Court has stepped in to answer the question: Which law will win in a direct conflict?
The MMMA is designed to protect qualified medical marijuana patients from arrest or prosecution as a result of their marijuana use. It allows patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana and to use it for medical purposes, including “internal possession.”
When the defendant in People v. Koon was stopped for speeding, he offered up his marijuana pipe and his MMMA card. He told police he was a qualified patient and had used marijuana 5 to 6 hours earlier. Later tests showed he still had active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in his blood. Basically, he did everything he should do assuming he was protected under the MMMA.
The prosecutors disagreed and charged him with operating a motor vehicle with any amount of a schedule 1 controlled substance in his blood (MCL 257.625(8)). They believed that the Vehicle Code was unaffected by the MMMA. But the Michigan Supreme Court sided with the defendant and issued a unanimous opinion without oral argument.
The MMMA does place limits on a qualified patient’s marijuana use, including prohibiting driving while under the influence of marijuana. But by relying on alcohol-based cases, the Court held that “under the influence” had to mean something more than just having trace amounts of marijuana in one’s system. It requires some effect on the person. Since the prosecution had not shown any deprivation to the defendant’s clearness of mind or self control, he was acting under the protection of the MMMA.
The Court then had to weigh which statute was king: the Vehicle Code or the MMMA. The latter statute contains a clause:
All other acts and parts of acts inconsistent with this act do not apply to the medical use of marihuana as provided for by this act. MCL 333.26427(e).
This clause allows the MMMA to trump other statutes whenever those statutes would be applied to the protected use of medical marijuana. Because the defendant’s actions fell within the statute, the charges could not succeed.
For medical marijuana users, this case is a green light to drive. While it is highly recommended that they wait several hours between use and getting behind the wheel, this case refutes the judges’ opinions that the THC, which could be in their system for days, will be enough to convict them of operating while intoxicated and would essentially prevent them from driving altogether.