TRAVERSE CITY — Medical marijuana patients and advocates scored a victory after the state’s top court issued a decision on a long-running Grand Traverse County case.
The Michigan Supreme Court this week effectively struck down a “zero tolerance” approach toward medical marijuana patients who drive with the drug in their system.
“Now it’s up to the prosecutor to show the medical marijuana user is actually affected before they can move forward with prosecution,” said Jim Hunt, a local attorney who represents defendant Rodney Lee Koon.
Koon, 51, has a medical medical marijuana registry card to address pain from two back surgeries. He was pulled over in 2010 by a Grand Traverse County sheriff’s deputy for speeding and told the deputy he smoked marijuana about five hours earlier.
“The thing about it was I wasn’t intoxicated when the officer pulled me over,” Koon said. “But by that time he had me cuffs. I told him then I’ll take it to the Supreme Court.”
Koon was arrested and charged with operating while intoxicated after a blood test showed marijuana in his system.
It’s illegal under Michigan law for a driver to have any amount of marijuana in their system, but at the time 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers ruled the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act provided Koon with protection from prosecution.
Grand Traverse County’s then-Prosecutor, Alan Schneider, successfully appealed Rodgers’ decision to a state appellate court panel, which set the stage for a Michigan Supreme Court decision with broad implications for medical marijuana patients. The Supreme Court ruled the voter-approved 2008 medical marijuana act was clear that patients are protected as long as they don’t drive under the influence:
“The MMMA does not define what it means to be ‘under the influence,’ but the phrase clearly contemplates something more than having any amount of marijuana in one’s system and requires some effect on the person,” the Supreme Court’s ruling stated.