Ann Arbor legislator working on effort to decriminalize marijuana in Michigan
Marijuana advocates plan to turn to the state Legislature for legal clarification following a Michigan Supreme Court ruling on Friday that could hurt medical pot dispensaries.
Chuck Ream, president of the Arborside medical marijuana dispensary in Ann Arbor, said he's hoping to build support for legislation allowing governments to regulate dispensaries locally.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
"If we're concerned about the negative impacts of marijuana use, all of that can be improved by improving our marijuana laws and regulating the product in a sensible way," he said. "It would improve public safety to drive the trade of marijuana into the light."
The Supreme Court on Friday ruled marijuana dispensaries that handle patient-to-patient sales are not protected under state law. But justices also said the appeals court erred when it determined state law prohibits direct sales of medical marijuana between patients and caregivers.
MLive.com is reporting the ruling gives county prosecutors across the state additional ammunition to shut down dispensaries that sell marijuana on the grounds that they are a public nuisance.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette told the Associated Press that he's notifying county prosecutors that they have the green light to shut down medical-marijuana shops.
Calling the ruling "a recipe for empowering violent criminals," Irwin said he fears it could increase the amount of marijuana purchases made on the black market and through criminal gangs.
Irwin believes a law decriminalizing marijuana could help keep drugs out of the hands of children, make streets safer, and save the state and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars.
"Our courts spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with these cases," Irwin said. "Most of the money is spent on police and courts, and some of it is spent on incarceration."
Irwin said there are a number of communities to look to for guidance, but he's partial to the Ann Arbor model.
The Ann Arbor City Council in the 1970s reduced the city penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a $5 civil infraction, essentially decriminalizing weed in Ann Arbor. That remains the case today, except it's now a $25 ticket for first offenses.
"It's working here just fine," Irwin said.
According to a new report, there are nearly 4,500 state-registered medical marijuana patients in Washtenaw County — about 2.5 patients for every state-registered caregiver locally.
Irwin said he's still digesting the Supreme Court's ruling, but he doesn't think it will mean the end of medical marijuana dispensaries.
"It bans patient-to-patient transfers," he said. "The ruling does not say dispensaries are illegal, nor does it say there's no model by which a dispensary could be created to provide services to patients."
Irwin said dispensary owners are, by and large, creative and intelligent people, and he thinks they will find a legal means to continue operating and provide services to their patients.
City Attorney Stephen Postema, who has closely followed the debate around the state's medical marijuana laws, could not be reached for comment.
Ream said he still hadn't read the ruling early Friday afternoon, but he assumed his dispensary at 1818 Packard would remain open.
He said he'll be fighting for legislation that would let cities decide for themselves to allow dispensaries. State Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, introduced such legislation last May in the form of House Bill 5580, but it never moved out of committee.
"We hope the Legislature will move rapidly to allow dispensaries so the people who are depending on them won't be really hurt by this court decision," Ream said.
Ream noted 63 percent of Michigan voters in 2008 approved the state law that legalized medical marijuana.
"It's time for the courts and the Legislature to reflect the will of the voters. They're still standing in the way," he said. "America is not a land of personal freedom anymore if you can't have an herb that the citizens of Michigan have determined democratically should be available."
Chief Justice Robert Young was supported by Justices Stephen Markman, Mary Beth Kelly and Brian Zahra in the 4-1 ruling. Michael Cavanagh dissented and Bridget McCormack, who won election in November, did not take part in the case, which was argued in October.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.