After 18 months of conflicting court rulings, lawsuits and arrests, the Michigan Supreme Court has finally acknowledged what Michigan voters overwhelmingly intended in 2008: State residents, with an OK from their doctor, can use marijuana to treat medical issues like chronic pain, nausea from chemotherapy and other maladies without fear of prosecution.
It has been a long road from November 2008 to now, but at last the state's top court has plainly said those who have been given an OK by their doctor can use that approval as an affirmative defense against prosecution.
An attorney involved in one of two cases ruled on by the court said the decision was a clear-cut victory for medical marijuana patients and a rebuke to overly zealous police and prosecutors (and some Michigan Court of Appeals judges) who have attempted to enforce the marijuana law in the harshest way possible.
It was also a repudiation of state Attorney General Bill Schuette's hard-line attitude toward the ballot proposal and his continued urging for local police to come down hard on users and caregivers.
A Schuette spokeswoman disagreed; she said the ruling didn't "legalize marijuana broadly," that patients remain subject to limits on the amount of marijuana they can grow or possess and medical marijuana users must get a doctor's certification before using marijuana.
That's right on all three counts. But then again, nobody claimed otherwise; legalizing pot wasn't even on the agenda. What counts is that patients have the right to use and possess marijuana; and if they have a doctor's OK, they don't even need to register with the state Department of Community Health.
Even medical marijuana supporters say it still makes sense for patients to get state certification to avoid possible arrest and prosecution by law enforcement types who didn't get the memo. The bottom line is that the Supreme Court says the law provides "a safety net" for all legitimate patients.
This will hardly be the end of the medical marijuana debate. The Legislature recently took a tentative step toward sorting out the confusing infrastructure needed to codify the medical marijuana initiative. Issues still to be dealt with include the role caregivers can play, whether patients can sell pot to other patients and the legal standing of dispensaries or collectives.
Thankfully, the court has drawn a line on the most basic issue: If someone suffering chronic pain can get an OK from his or her doctor, they can use medical marijuana to deal with that pain.
Just what 63 percent of Michigan voters said in 2008.