Lansing — Local governments shouldn’t be allowed to pass ordinances that chip away at Michigan’s five-year-old medical marijuana law, state Supreme Court justices were told Thursday.
The result would be a balkanization of the law, which was intended broadly to allow people with certain medical conditions to grow and use marijuana, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union argued on behalf of a Wyoming man.
“There is no question that when it comes to this patient and when it comes to this ordinance, there is a direct pre-emption of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act,” ACLU attorney Danial Korobkin told the justices.
But Wyoming attorney Jack Sluiter said his city didn’t try to ban medical marijuana use through a zoning ordinance that disallows it, but instead regulate it in a way that protects the health and safety of its residents.
“The term (ban) is used over and over again, and it’s simply not true,” Sluiter said in court.
The city of Wyoming outside of Grand Rapids is seeking to overturn a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling last summer that found cities cannot enact local laws that criminalize registered patients’ legal use of the drug.
The case could have broad implications for communities seeking to regulate medical marijuana growing and distribution through zoning ordinances in the legal battles over the 2008 voter-enacted Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.
The ACLU of Michigan has challenged similar ordinances in Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Livonia.
In the case before the high court, John Ter Beek and ACLU of Michigan are contesting a 2010 Wyoming zoning ordinance prohibiting the use, cultivation or manufacture of marijuana.
Ter Beek, who lives in the city, says he is a qualified medical marijuana patient who grows and uses marijuana in his home. He contends Wyoming’s ordinance is invalid because it conflicts with the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.
Ter Beek hasn’t been charged with violating the ordinance, but has gone to court to argue that it’s an intended preemption of the voter-passed law allowing medical marijuana growing and use.
After a lower court upheld the ordinance, the Court of Appeals ruled Wyoming’s ordinance to be “void and unenforceable to the extent that it purports to sanction the medical use of marijuana in conformity with the (Michigan Medical Marijuana Act).” The ruling was issued in July.
Wyoming and Sluiter maintain the appeals court ruling, if upheld, will block cities from passing ordinances for the health and welfare of their residents.
Sluiter said Ter Beek wouldn’t be charged under the ordinance because he is allowed a “non-conforming use” that predates it. He said new medical marijuana users and growers could apply for variances from the ordinance or go to court to contest its application to them.
In an interview, Sluiter said Wyoming is trying to deal with “issues we’ve already had,” including fires related to marijuana growing lights and break-ins at places where the plants are being grown or used.
But the ACLU’s Korobkin said city leaders “are trying to nullify the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act in their city.”
If that’s allowed, he said, other cities will follow suit, whereas Michigan voters approved a “strong state law” to protect people who are chronically ill and “just need a little relief” from their suffering.
Wyoming also has argued its ordinance is consistent with federal law prohibiting marijuana growing and use.
The U.S. Justice Department recently announced it won’t use the federal law to prosecute people who are complying with more permissive state laws.
The justices closely questioned Sluiter about how the Wyoming ordinance isn’t an attempt to preempt the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.
Chief Justice Robert Young read from a section of the act stating it is intended to supersede “all other acts and parts” that would conflict with it.
“How else could (Michigan voters) have said it any more broadly than that?” Young asked.