Supreme Court case pits medical pot caregivers against localities

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
The Michigan Supreme Court.

The Michigan Supreme Court will take on a case that challenges a community's right to limit the areas that a caregiver can grow medical marijuana.

The Supreme Court announced Wednesday that it would hear arguments on a case pitting a west Michigan medical marijuana caregiver against her township zoning rules. A date for oral arguments has not yet been set.

The case arose in 2016 when Byron Township notified caregiver Christie DeRuiter that her medical marijuana grow, located in a commercial location, violated a township ordinance specifying caregivers must grow product at home. DeRuiter argued that the state’s 2008 Medical Marijuana Act preempted the township ordinance.

“That was and is the issue,” said DeRuiter’s lawyer David Dodge.

Kent County Circuit Court and the state Court of Appeals agreed, prompting Byron Township to appeal to the state’s high court.

The township is joined by the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Township Association, which submitted amicus briefs in a case that could have implications for the relationship between communities and caregivers across the state.

In the flurry of lawsuits, rulings and clarifications that followed medical marijuana’s 2008 legalization, this issue is “ground zero” for townships looking for clarity on the extent of their authority, said Larry Merrill, executive director for the Michigan Township Association.

“It’s a core issue,” Merrill said. “Local governments have been struggling to get a foothold as to what their authority is when it comes to locational decisions.”

The case's importance to home rule provisions is heightened given the recent legalization of recreational marijuana, in which "broad legislative authorization ... appears not to have contemplated those issues closely," the Municipal League wrote in its amicus brief. 

"Clear legislative intent" is needed for a state law to overrule a local law, the league's attorneys wrote, and 2008 voters "did not clearly intend to immunize medical marijuana patients and caregivers from local land use laws."

While the state’s 2016 Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act and the 2018 Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act give some guidance regarding communities' rights to prohibit or allow commercial medical and recreational facilities, the 2008 Medical Marihuana Act is largely silent on communities’ zoning rights when it comes to caregiver-grown marijuana.

DeRuiter argued the 2008 state law trumps township zoning rules, but the township has countered that the state and local rules can coexist.

The township’s zoning ordinance was patterned after the 2008 law and “provides a matter of right” for caregivers to operate within their own home, said Craig Noland, a lawyer for the township.

With the limited number of plants caregivers are allowed to grow — up to 60 total for five patients and 12 for the caregiver themselves — a home operation is “more appropriate,” Merrill said.

“We think the court erred,” Merrill said about the Court of Appeals decision. “The language was extremely broad in determining it was the will of the people when they voted for the 2008 law, that they intended that medical marijuana growers could thumb their noses at any zoning ordinances.”

(517) 371-3661