The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the medical marijuana laws in the Wolverine State do not offer legal protection for patients who consume cannabis in their personal vehicles. Following a 2-1 vote in Lansing, a precedent has been set dictating that registered medical marijuana patients cannot smoke cannabis while parked in their own car outside of a private business.
This ruling came after Robert Carlton was arrested for smoking medical marijuana inside his car in the parking of a Mt. Pleasant Casino. Carlton and his attorney contended that his vehicle is not open to the public and therefore he should be free from legal prosecution. Judges at the circuit and district levels agreed with this argument.
Unlike the circuit and district judges, the Court of Appeals judges did not side in favor of Carlton. They decided that although Carlton was inside of his vehicle at the time, it was parked in a public place which cancelled out the immunity extended to registered medical marijuana patients under the law.
According to judges Michael J. Kelly and Christopher M. Murray:
“The lot remains a public place and the fact that a person in a vehicle occupies a place that can be characterized as private in some limited sense does not alter the fact that the person is at the same time located in a public place. And, as with the bathroom stall, whether the members of the general public are able to see the person smoking medical marijuana does not alter the public character of the place.”
Douglas Shapiro, the third Court of Appeals Judge, did not agree with the majority opinion. He said that while the state medical marijuana law makes it illegal to consume cannabis on any form of public transportation, he believes that personal vehicles could be viewed as private locations in certain circumstances. To explain why he sided with the defendent, Shapiro wrote:
“The majority looks only at whether the vehicle itself is in a place defined as public. But the statutory language leaves open the possibility that in some circumstances a private vehicle can constitute a ‘private place’ even though it is located in an area to which the public has access.”
Michigan is working on plans to organize a medical marijuana system with more regulated dispensaries, grow operations and related businesses.