Editorial: Medical marijuana law needs clarifying, not excessive policing
State Attorney General Bill Schuette’s decision to endorse the most restrictive conceivable interpretation of Michigan’s new medical marijuana law may tempt police and prosecutors to pursue licensed caregivers for niggling procedural violations. That would be a mistake, and a waste of law enforcement resources at a time when the parameters of the new law are still being debated in both the courts and the Legislature.
Michigan voters authorized the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions and symptoms in a November 2008 referendum. Schuette was one of the most vocal opponents of the new law, which makes him a dubious choice to direct enforcement efforts consistent with the voters’ druthers.
But until either state Supreme Court justices or state lawmakers provide some urgently needed guidance, Schuette’s status as the state’s top law enforcement official gives him an outsized role, and he has exploited it aggressively in the prevailing vacuum. In an advisory opinion issued Tuesday, for instance, the AG said county prosecutors could bring criminal charges against licensed caregivers who use a single secured facility to cultivate medical marijuana for more than one patient.
The medical marijuana law authorizes such caregivers to grow up to 12 plants for each of their qualifying patients. Since each caregiver can be licensed to assist as many as five such patients, one caregiver can theoretically cultivate as many as 60 plants at a time.
Under the terms of Schuette’s advisory opinion, however, caregivers have to maintain a separate, secure growing facility for each patient, or face the possibility of criminal charges.
Schuette’s advisory opinion, which seems conspicuously hostile to the intent voters expressed overwhelmingly in 2008, is virtually certain to trigger a legal challenge by champions of medical marijuana. State Supreme Court justices have already agreed to hear a case in which a licensed patient from Shiawassee County was arrested because the locked enclosure in which he was growing his marijuana had no roof.
Common sense dictates that prosecutors should hesitate to bring new cases until justices have established the legitimacy of those already in the pipeline.
In the meantime, state lawmakers should make it clearer exactly how those authorized to use medical marijuana can lawfully obtain it, where it can be lawfully consumed, and what restrictions health providers, employers and landlords can impose on users.
That the new law requires fine-tuning is increasingly obvious. But that is too important a task to be left in the hands of those who opposed it in the first place.