Michigan Supreme Court bars city from using Federal Law to justify prosecution of citizens for medical marijuana use authorized by Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act
In a recent decision, the Michigan Supreme Court answered the question with a resounding “No.”
In Ter Beek v. City of Wyoming, the Supreme Court ruled the City of Wyoming was prohibited from enforcing its ordinance which, essentially, criminalized the use of medical marijuana based on the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA)’s ban on all marijuana.
Writing for an unanimous court, Justice Bridget M. McCormack concluded:
“[W]e hold that the Ordinance is preempted by § 4(a) of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act [MCL 333.26424], which in turn is not preempted by the federal controlled substances act.”
As the issues surrounding the use of medical marijuana in Michigan continue to evolve and develop, this is a very significant ruling for “qualifying patients” who are lawfully permitted under the MMMA to use medical marijuana “to treat or alleviate a … debilitating medical condition or symptoms associated with the debilitating medical condition.”
And as an injury attorney, this is an issue I’ve been following closely. As a lawyer who helps people injured in automobile accidents, I’ve wondered how these laws will be interpreted in the future when someone who is lawfully permitted to use marijuana causes an automobile accident that injures another. There are so many legal and medical issues that come up, so I’ve also been reading and writing about how medical marijuana will affect drivers in car accidents.
Citizen vs. City
Here are more details about Michigan’s recent medical marijuana case. In 2010, approximately two years after the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act took effect, the Michigan City of Wyoming passed a law that would have allowed the city to impose criminal sanctions on marijuana users within the city, even lawful users of medical marijuana under the MMMA.
The City of Wyoming’s law prohibited land “use” that was “contrary to federal law” such as the federal Controlled Substances Act which makes it “unlawful”:
“[F]or any person knowingly or intentionally . . . to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense … marijuana …” (See 21 USC 841(a)(1) and 810(c)(12)).
Mike Ter Beek, a resident of Wyoming and a registered medical marijuana user under the MMMA, thought the city’s new law could be used to prosecute him for his lawful use of medical marijuana.
Accordingly, he sued to have the law declared invalid and to prevent “the City from enforcing the Ordinance against him for the medical use of marijuana in compliance with the MMMA.”
Michigan Medical Marijuana Act
In challenging the Wyoming ordinance, Mr. Ter Beek relied on the MMMA provisions which afford lawful medical marijuana users, like himself, immunity from criminal prosecution:
- “A qualifying patient who has been issued and possesses a registry identification card shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, including but not limited to civil penalty or disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau, for the medical use of marihuana in accordance with this act …” (MCL 333.26424)
- “‘Medical use’ means the acquisition, possession, cultivation, manufacture, use, internal possession, delivery, transfer, or transportation of marihuana or paraphernalia relating to the administration of marihuana to treat or alleviate a registered qualifying patient’s debilitating medical condition or symptoms associated with the debilitating medical condition.” (MCL 333.26423(f))
Michigan Medical Marijuana Act vs. Federal Law
The city defended its ordinance by arguing that the federal controlled substances act pre-empted the “immunity” provision of the MMMA.
However, the Michigan Supreme Court rejected the argument, concluding “there is [no] ‘positive conflict’ between the two statutes such that they ‘cannot consistently stand together.’”
The justices’ conclusion boiled down to two points:
- The MMMA’s immunity does not prevent the city’s enforcement of the federal drug law because it is not the city’s job to enforce the federal drug law: “the CSA [does not] require that the City, or the state of Michigan, enforce that prohibition.”
- There’s nothing in the MMMA that prevents the federal government from ignoring the MMMA and enforcing the federal drug law’s provisions against MMMA-approved medical marijuana users: “[T]he MMMA is clear that, if certain individuals choose to engage in MMMA-compliant medical marijuana use, § 4(a) provides them with a limited state-law immunity from ‘arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner’—an immunity that does not purport to prohibit federal criminalization of, or punishment for, that conduct. … Nor, of course, could the MMMA prohibit such federal regulation and enforcement.”
Significantly, the justices noted:
- “[W]e do not find it impossible to comply with both the CSA and § 4(a) of the MMMA.”
- “While … § 4(a) does prevent the City from fully incorporating the CSA’s prohibition of marijuana into its own local enforcement scheme, it does not require that the City violate that federal prohibition. Neither does the CSA require that the City, or the state of Michigan, enforce that prohibition.”
- “We likewise hold that § 4(a) does not stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of the CSA.”
- The MMMA’s “immunity does not purport to alter the CSA’s federal criminalization of marijuana, or to interfere with or undermine federal enforcement of that prohibition.”
- “Section 4(a) [of the MMMA] simply provides that, under state law, certain individuals may engage in certain medical marijuana use without risk of penalty. … [W]hile such use is prohibited under federal law, § 4(a) does not deny the federal government the ability to enforce that prohibition, nor does it purport to require, authorize, or excuse its violation. Granting Ter Beek his requested relief does not limit his potential exposure to federal enforcement of the CSA against him, but only recognizes that he is immune under state law for MMMA-compliant conduct, as provided in § 4(a).”
Michigan Medical Marijauna Act vs. City Ordinance
As for the power of the City of Wyoming to pass a long that purports to trump the MMMA, which was passed by the Michigan Legislature and approved by the Governor, the Supreme Court noted:
Article 7, Section 22 of the Michigan Constitution of 1963 “provides that ordinances are subject to the laws of this state, i.e., statutes. … The City, therefore, “is precluded from enacting an ordinance if . . . the ordinance is in direct conflict with the state statutory scheme …”
The justices went on to conclude:
- “Here, the Ordinance directly conflicts with the MMMA by permitting what the MMMA expressly prohibits—the imposition of a /penalty in any manner’ on a registered qualifying patient whose medical use of marijuana falls within the scope of § 4(a)’s immunity.”
- “The Ordinance directly conflicts with the MMMA not because it generally pertains to marijuana, but because it permits registered qualifying patients, such as Ter Beek, to be penalized by the City for engaging in MMMA-compliant medical marijuana use. Section 4(a) of the MMMA expressly prohibits this. As such, the MMMA preempts the Ordinance to the extent of this conflict.”