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David Rudoi Esq.

May 21, 2013

On May 21st, 2013 the Michigan Supreme Court issued their opinion in the landmark case of People v Koon. The case involved to seemingly conflicting statutes. First is The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act which provides immunity for the medical use of marijuana in accordance with the MMMA. MCL 333.26427(b) of the MMMA states that a patient may not drive under the influence of marijuana, however the term “under the influence” is not defined. The MMMA seemingly conflicts with MCL 257.625(8) which prohibits a person driving with any amount of a Schedule 1 controlled substance in one’s body.

In the case of People v Koon it was originally argued that the MMMA shields a person from prosecution under MCL 257.625(8) unless that person violates section 7b of the MMMA and is actually “under the Influence. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that since the MMMA did not define what it meant to be “under the influence” it was not in conflict with MCL 257.625(8) because that statute defined under the influence as having any amount in one’s body.

The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals holding that a person who qualifies for immunity under the  MMMA cannot be convicted under MCL 257.625(8) without proof that he had acted in violation of the MMMA by operating a motor vehicle while actually “under the Influence” of marijuana.

The Supreme Court reasoned that the MMMA prohibits prosecution for registered patients who internally possess marijuana but not those who drive under the influence of marijuana. Thus, the MMMA is in direct conflict with MCL 257.625(8) because MCL 257.625(8) does not define ‘under the influence but rather creates a per se violation just for having internal possession of marijuana while a person is operating a motor vehicle.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the zero tolerance provision could not possible apply to the MMMA because the MMMA resolves all conflicts between all other acts and the MMMA by exempting the medical use of marijuana from the application of an inconsistent act. Since MCL 257.625(8) is in conflict with the MMMA a person who qualifies for exemption under the MMMA cannot be prosecuted under MCL 257.625(8).

This means the prosecution must prove that a person is not exempt under the MMMA by proving some violation of the MMMA, mainly section 7(b)’s prohibition against driving under the influence of marijuana. The Michigan Supreme Court refused to define the actual parameters of what it means exactly to drive “under the influence” of marijuana but concluded that it is something more than having any amount of marijuana in one’s system. Case law in Michigan in regards to operating while intoxicated holds that “under the influence” requires proof that the person’s ability to drive is “substantially and materially affected.” Black’s Law Dictionary 9th Edition defines “under the influence as “deprived of clearness of mind and self-control because of drugs or alcohol.”

The Michigan Supreme Court suggested that the legislature amend the MMMA to define what the “under the influence” term means in Section 7(b) possible equating it to a per se number of nanograms of THC, similar to the 0.08 level of blood alcohol which means a person is per se under the influence of alcohol. However for now the prosecution will have to prove that the use of marijuana substantially and materially affected the patient’s ability to drive. This will not be easy and will often come done to a factually dispute for a jury based on the defendant’s driving and their performance on field sobriety tests.

This was a huge win for the medical marijuana community! The only way this ruling could have better is if the Michigan Supreme Court would have ruled that marijuana is no longer a schedule 1 controlled substance since schedule 1 controlled substance is defined as having no scientifically verified medical purpose. The passage of the  MMMA clearly showed that marijuana has valid medical purposes and in my mind it obviously should not be defined as a schedule 1 controlled substance, however that is a battle for another day.