Communities can’t pass ordinances to preempt Michigan’s 5-year-old medical marijuana law, according to a Michigan Supreme Court ruling Thursday — a far-reaching move that “ends a long, tortuous battle in the courts,” one legal expert said.
The decision may invalidate marijuana measures at least three Metro Detroit cities that run contrary to the state law, legal experts say.
Wyoming, near Grand Rapids, in 2010 created a zoning ordinance that prohibited the use, cultivation or manufacture of marijuana. Wyoming resident John Ter Beek challenged the law because he said he was a qualified medical marijuana patient and argued that the 2008 state law preempted the local ordinance. The court agreed.
“It’s a good victory for medical marijuana patients,” said Matthew Abel, a senior partner at Cannabis Counsel PLC, a Detroit-based law firm that handles marijuana cases.
Abel said the ruling upholds the rights of residents who want to “avail themselves of the benefits of the medical marijuana law if it applies to them.”
Wyoming’s ordinance “directly conflicts” with the state’s medical marijuana law by allowing what the law “expressly prohibits: the imposition of any penalty, including a civil one, on a registered qualifying patient whose medical use of marijuana falls with ... the immunity” granted under state law, Justice Bridget McCormack wrote in a unanimous opinion.
The court held that federal law criminalizing marijuana doesn’t invalidate the state’s medical marijuana law because the state law “doesn’t interfere with or undermine federal enforcement of that prohibition,” McCormack wrote. The state legally allows “a limited class of individuals to engage in certain uses in an effort to provide for the health and welfare of Michigan citizens,” the ruling said.
The ruling appears to invalidate similar ordinances in Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Livonia, according to lawyers who deal with medical marijuana cases and constitutional law experts.
“The court was very clear that the people who are complying Medical Marihuana Act can’t be subject to any penalty by local municipalities,” said Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, approved by voters in 2008, allows certain protections for the medical use of marijuana in the state, including immunizing registered, qualifying, MMMA-compliant patients from “penalty in any manner.”
Municipalities have denied they are banning medical marijuana when they enact ordinances, he said, and instead label them “regulations” that deal with medical marijuana use. Either way, ordinances can’t infringe upon state legislation, he said.
“… You can’t just replace prohibition with regulation to try something new,” Korobkin said.
Since local governments essentially are arms of the state, each must ensure their orders are not more restrictive than what Michigan allows, said Robert Sedler, a constitutional law professor at Wayne State University. “They only have the power the state gives them.”
The ruling encourages supporters who say it’s consistent with rulings across the country.
“Rogue cities like Wyoming can’t use federal law to circumvent Michigan voters,” said Tim Beck, director of pro-marijuana group the Coalition for a Safer Detroit.
Attorney Michael Komorn, president of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, said the ruling “ends a long, tortuous battle in the courts” and also provides more clarity for communities to deal with medical marijuana issues.
“Cities have to uphold the same protections for patients and caregivers that the state does,” he said of the rulings effect.
Beck said the ruling could affect communities in Metro Detroit with legislation similar to Wyoming’s.
But Livonia City Attorney Don Knapp, who said he had not yet read the state Supreme Court decision, said he doesn’t believe the ruling will have any legal effect on Livonia’s ordinance, regulates medical marijuana growing and distribution through zoning ordinances.
“The courts have already determined dispensaries are illegal in Michigan,” he said. “A lot of the concerns from when the ordinance was passed have been alleviated with subsequent state law.”
Michigan voters in 2008 approved medical marijuana use by a 63 percent to 37 percent margin, joining other states that allow it.
While the city didn’t charge Ter Beek with violating the ordinance, he sued in Kent County Circuit Court to void the city law by arguing the city intended to preempt the voter-passed state lawallowing medical marijuana growing and use.
Wyoming Councilman William Ver Hulst said Thursday he was disappointed with the ruling but he expected city leaders to discuss other options. “I don’t want to see marijuana (use) expand,” Ver Hulst said. “It’s bad to see people get hooked on it and states have even authorities recreational use like Colorado. I think it’s a slippery slope.”
Others saw Thursday’s ruling as offering a clearer view on an issue that confuses some.
“A ruling like this brings clarification to the issue and many local leaders will be relieved to know exactly what the situation is,” said Jamie Lowell, managing partner and co-founder of 3rd Coast Compassion Center in Ypsilanti.