Judge lets Ypsilanti Twp. woman, 79, keep pot plants in home, for now

Amelia Benavides-Colón
The Detroit News

A Washtenaw County judge will hold an evidentiary hearing at a later date in the latest development in a five-year fight between Ypsilanti Township and a 79-year-old retired township employee who grows marijuana plants in her basement.

Judith Pontius defied a previous order from Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Carol Kuhnke to remove about 62 plants from the home by June 21. Under state law, individuals can have up to 12 marijuana plants for personal use, or up to 72 plants if they are a licensed caregiver for up to five patients.

The dispute between Pontius and the township began in 2016. Kuhnke initially ruled in Pontius' favor, as did the Michigan Court of Appeals, but the township appealed and the state Supreme Court in an April 2020 ruling said municipalities can regulate where marijuana grow operations are located. 

Judy Pontius talks to the media as her attorney, Barton Morris Jr., right, listens outside Washtenaw County Circuit Court in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.

Ypsilanti Township's ordinance says grow operations larger than 12 plants have to be located in a light industrial zone.

Pontius's attorney, Barton Morris Jr., told Kuhnke during a Wednesday hearing scheduled because of Pontius's defiance that his client has a right to own 55 marijuana plants in her home rather than 12, because she is no longer a caregiver and they are her personal plants. 

The evidentiary hearing will be scheduled by Friday in order to give Morris an opportunity to establish his claim that the plants are for personal use because he had previously argued Pontius was entitled to the plants because she was a caregiver. 

He has said municipalities like Ypsilanti Township are trying to put caregivers who grow marijuana for patients out of business by objecting to grow operations in residential areas. He has also urged the Michigan legislature to step in and amend the law to help settle the issue.  

"We have to get the state legislators to step up and do something about this because (caregivers) are under attack," said Morris.

Morris also rebuffed assertions from the township that Pontius is no longer living in her home. 

Supporters of Judy Pontius protest outside Washtenaw County Circuit Court in support of her growing marijuana in her Ypsilanti home on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.

Doug Winters, an attorney for the township, called Pontius' case an "absurd" misuse of the legal system.

"The whole approach has been just totally bait and switch. Where you say one thing, and then you have a hearing and say something totally opposite," said Winters. "It's disingenuous."

Winters told The News of Thursday, "It's not about the township saying you can't have 12 marijuana plants. We've never said that, but if you're a caregiver with five patients growing 72 (plants), you have to do it in a different zoning district."

More than a dozen protestors appeared outside the Washtenaw County Circut Court, in support of Pontius' growing operation and to urge the Michigan Legislature to create more lenient marijuana laws.

Staff Writer Orlalander Brand-Williams contributed.