Traverse City Record-Eagle

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November 28, 2010

Medical pot case could hit top court

Speeding stop led to charge of driving under influence of drugs

TRAVERSE CITY — Rodney Koon may have to spend $30,000 or more to fight a misdemeanor arrest for driving a car the same day he legally used medically prescribed marijuana.

Koon, 49, a laid-off Traverse City roofer, was stopped for speeding Feb. 3 on Garfield Road. A Grand Traverse County deputy found a pipe in his pocket, and Koon readily acknowledged he smoked marijuana that day.

He also showed the deputy a state certificate that allows him to use marijuana for medical purposes.

"I was honest ... that was my mistake," said Koon, who uses marijuana for a variety of ailments, including herniated discs in his back, a pinched nerve in his neck, rheumatoid arthritis of the spine and stomach problems. "I told him I had medicated six hours earlier. After that he was all hot to bust me on a drug charge."

Koon's speeding stop sparked a legal tussle in Traverse City over aspects of the medical marijuana law state voters approved in 2008.

Grand Traverse County authorities charged Koon with driving under the influence of drugs because he tested positive for THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Prosecutor Alan Schneider based his case against Koon on a law that finds a person guilty if he tests positive for the smallest detectable amount of a controlled substance.

But two area judges disagreed. They said the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act supersedes a state controlled substance law and ruled Schneider must show that the legal use of medical marijuana impaired Koon's ability to drive a car.

"Evidence of impairment is a necessary requirement," wrote 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers in upholding a district court judge's decision that prevented a prosecutor in Koon's scheduled Sept. 2 trial from inserting favorable jury instructions. The trial was postponed.

"The (prosecutor) has not alleged ... the defendant's actions and mannerisms at that time indicated a visible or substantial impairment with regard to his driving," Rodgers wrote.

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