Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 30, 2013

Medical pot driver's charge dropped

TRAVERSE CITY — Local authorities dropped criminal charges against a Williamsburg man whose 2010 arrest spurred statewide changes for medical marijuana patients who drive with the drug in their system.

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney on Thursday formally dismissed operating while intoxicated charges against Rodney Koon, 51, following a Michigan Supreme Court decision this month. The court’s ruling effectively dismantled a state law that dictated a “zero tolerance” approach to medical marijuana users like Koon.

“With the Supreme Court’s decision, you have to prove the person is under the influence,” Cooney said.

Michigan’s zero tolerance stance prompted former Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Alan Schneider to charged Koon in 2010 with driving under the influence. Koon was pulled over for speeding and told sheriff’s deputies he smoked marijuana about five hours beforehand.

That led to a three-year court battle that began when 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers ruled Koon’s status as a card-carrying medical marijuana patient gave him protection under Michigan’s voter-approved, 2008 medical marijuana act.

A state appellate court panel overturned Rodgers’ decision before the case headed to the state Supreme Court, whose members ruled medical marijuana patients are protected as long as they don’t drive “under the influence.”

Cooney could have pressed ahead with the charges but would have had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Koon was driving under the influence.

“I have to believe there’s a reasonable likelihood a jury will convict under the new standard,” Cooney said. “This is a case where the evidence for driving under the influence was sparse, but there obviously was the presence of THC.”

Koon expressed relief when he heard charges had been dropped.

“I feel that for once the judicial system played out their role in a proper manner,” he said. “I’m happy to see it, but it does take a long, long time.”

Cooney said the Supreme Court had a “tough call” and said he respected the decision, but he voiced public safety concerns.

“I hope the decision prompts the Legislature to include some definition of ‘under the influence’ under the (Michigan Medical Marihuana Act) that will better protect the safety of the public while respecting medical marijuana patients,” he said.



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