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Marijuana Legalization: Medical Marijuana Scores Court Victory in Michigan

The hitch with new laws is that they are riddled with contradictions. Law surrounding medical marijuana in particular have yet to gain a solid footing, but in the case of Michigan v. Rodney Koon, the Michigan Supreme Court has taken one step further to clearing the air around medical marijuana use.

With active THC (the main psychoactive component of marijuana) in his system, Rodney Koon had broken Michigan's "zero tolerance" policy when pulled over for driving 83 mph in a 55 mph zone.

While Zero-Tolerance traditionally states that it is illegal for drivers to consume marijuana, the state high court has ruled that medical marijuana users have some protection. In order for a charge to stick, a prosecutor must prove that the driver was actively "under the influence."

The problem here is that "under the influence" has yet to be clearly defined by the state. Normally, a controlled substance like marijuana is described as a schedule 1 drug when the substance has high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use, or lacks practical safety without medical supervision. Yet, Michigan now recognizes the use of medical marijuana, leaving a wide margin of inconsistency in what exactly the drug is and what it can do. In this case, the court stated that medical marijuana law didn't create a right to use marijuana, but provided protection from prosecution for its illegal possession. Koon argued that he had the "right" to "internally possess" marijuana, and so long as he wasn't breaking any other laws, he could continue his everyday activities.

In his appeal, the court ruled that the prosecutors did not prove Koon was actually impaired behind the wheel. Medical Marijuana advocate Tim Beck urged that "just because some has THC in their system, which in theory, they may be high — they may not be high. But the standard is are they driving safely — period. And it’s now up to the police to prove they were not driving safely."

The defense argued in their appellate brief that the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association (MMMA) "protects qualifying patients who are engaged in the medial use of marihuana. This protection allows a qualifying patient to operate a motor vehicle … as long as the qualifying patient is not under the influence of marihuana. However … operating under the influence of marihuana means that a qualifying patient cannot operate a motor vehicle with any amount of marihuana in his system. This is in direct contravention of the language of the MMMA, and prior law regarding what operating under the influence means."

This contradiction in legal jargon led the court to rule in favor of Koon and determines that the MMMA's protection for medical marijuana users supersedes the Michigan Vehicle Code law against driving with marijuana in your system.

As with any new laws — regulations ooze inconsistencies, some more obvious than others. Ultimately, even though Michigan v. King may seem as trivial a case as a speeding ticket, it actually sets the precedent for every medical marijuana case to come. 

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