Medical marijuana laws are still a smoking-hot topic in Michigan courts.

Last Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in a 4-1 decision that patient-to-patient medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal after an ongoing trial involving a dispensary based in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

The court ruled that the sale of marijuana is not protected by the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, and is therefore outside the law. A court document said “patient-to-patient sales … do not qualify for immunity because they encompass marijuana-related conduct that is not for the purpose of alleviating the transferor’s debilitating medical condition or its symptoms.”

The disputed dispensary, Compassionate Apothecary, was found to have been in violation of the MMMA on the grounds that the business was facilitating patient-to-patient transfers. The dispensary is now closed.

Compassionate Apothecary operated by allowing registered medical marijuana users to rent lockers in which to store marijuana plants that could be sold to other registered patients or caregivers.

The case began when a Mount Pleasant County prosecuter filed a complaint against Compassionate Apothecary, claiming that the operation was not legal under the MMMA and a public nuisance.

The first court to preside over the case found Compassionate Apothecary not guilty, but after a lengthy legal process the state of Michigan took the case to the state Supreme Court in October 2012.

In order to remain within the law, registered patients are expected to purchase medical marijuana from state-approved caregivers, or grow the plant themselves. However, the law does not provide guidance on how to purchase marijuana seeds or plants.

Former Compassionate Apothecary owners Brandon McQueen and Matthew Taylor posted a message on the business’s website commenting on the ways in which the medical marijuana business helps Michigan’s economy.

“Dispensing legal amounts of medication to legally registered patients registered with the state of Michigan, and ID checked every time, was just a small fraction of what California did,” the couple wrote.

State Representative Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said he’s upset with limits that have been placed on the law, which he said has turned out to be a failure.

“It costs hundreds of millions of dollars just here in Michigan to control marijuana laws, and in the process negatively impacts our productive capability,” Irwin said.

He noted that the court missed the gravity of the definitions clause — which that defines legal terms used in the act — when first drafting the MMMA, and predicts that dispensaries will begin to change their business models to avoid being deemed a public nuisance by local law enforcement.

Irwin said he has worked to decriminalize the use and sale of medical marijuana in order to keep the product away from potentially dangerous black-market traders.

“Everything the government does to drive the trade into the shadows empowers violent criminals,” Irwin said. “I want to bring the light of legitimacy into these transactions so that we can protect consumers.”

LSA senior Nicholas Zettell, a leader of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, said the recent decision will affect safe access for registered patients and caregivers.

Zettell also commented on what he said was an increase in dispensaries shut down by law enforcement. In 2011, after the original ruling on the Compassionate Apothecary case, two Ann Arbor dispensaries were raided by the Michigan State Police Livingston and Washtenaw Narcotics Enforcement Team after investigation into their activities.

One dispensary, MedMAR, had picked up their official city application to become a licensed dispensary just four days before the raid.

“I don’t know if I can really explain in words how tragic it was to witness,” Zettell said. “Some people were held at gunpoint and taken to jail.”

Public Policy Prof. Melvyn Levitsky has different thoughts on the matter.

“In my opinion, it would be better if they’d just declared the whole thing illegal,” Levitsky said.

Levitsky pointed out that federal law and the World Health Organization consider marijuana an intoxicating substance, not a medicine.

“The fact is that federal law is supreme over state law … it’s not wise to declare something a medicine without any scientific proof.”

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