LANSING — A Michigan appeals court ruled this week that the state’s medical marijuana law requires cardholders to be Michigan residents, and held that immunity from prosecution under the law is a question for a judge, not a jury, to decide.
The ruling came in a 2011 Berrien County case where police stopped a woman, Cynthia Cherelle Jones, who was weaving in and out of traffic. While conducting the traffic stop, police received permission to search Jones’ vehicle and found eight bags of marijuana totaling five ounces as well as medical marijuana registry cards belonging to Jones and others.
Jones sought to claim immunity under the state’s medical marijuana act, which protects registered patients from prosecution, while prosecutors argued Jones was not entitled to the immunity because she was not a Michigan resident when she applied for her card or when she was arrested.
The trial court determined that questions of fact existed about the immunity defense which a jury would have to decide. A panel of Michigan Court of Appeals judges ruled that because the immunity in the medical marijuana law protects patients from arrest and prosecution, the decision of whether or not immunity applies to a defendant should be made before the case ever goes to a jury.
“For this protection to have meaningful effect, the immunity must be afforded at the earliest possible stages of any investigation or subsequent court proceedings,” the opinion states.
The court held that residency is a key component of the immunity, however, because the statute contains explicit provisions which protect visiting patients from out of state as well as make reference to “the health and welfare of its (Michigan’s) citizens.”
“In light of the reference to Michigan citizens, and the provisions regarding a visiting qualifying patient in the MMMA, we agree with the trial court that Michigan residency is a prerequisite to the issuance and valid possession of a registry identification card,” the opinion states.
The case was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings as a result of the appellate decision.