LANSING, MI — Michigan landlords would have greater authority to prohibit tenants from smoking or growing medical marijuana under legislation advanced Tuesday by the state Senate.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) and approved in a 31-7 vote, would codify a 2011 opinion issued by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who said that hotel, motel or apartment building owners can ban the use of medical marijuana without violating the state’s voter-approved law.
Medical marijuana patients would be prohibited from growing or smoking the drug in violation of a written prohibition by their landlord under the bill. Michigan’s public health code makes marijuana use a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in prison and/or a $100 fine, according to a Senate Fiscal Agency analysis of the legislation.
Jones, who requested the opinion from Schuette back in 2011, said landlords in his district have complained about medical marijuana patients who damaged rental units, tipped over grow lights and created unpleasant odors for neighbors.
“I had a call just a few days ago from an owner who was leasing a house,” said Jones. “He came back, they had cut holes in the walls, they had turned it into an entire greenhouse. There was moisture in the walls. Everything was damaged.”
State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) voted against the legislation after the Republican majority shot down her proposed amendment seeking to tie-bar the bill to a House-approved measure designed to legalize various forms of edible medical marijuana.
“Pot brownies” are not a usable form of the drug allowed under law, according to a recent decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which essentially banned “medibles” and other non-smokable forms of the drug.
“If the argument today really is that we want people to be able to take their medicine but not smoke in property they don’t own, there’s something this body could do about it,” Warren said.
Jones indicated he has no problem with the edibles proposal — “it’s probably much safer than smoking it and getting cancer,” he said — but argued that the bills are unrelated and should not be linked. Senate Majority Leader Richardville (R-Monroe) said he may hold a hearing on dispensary and edible medical marijuana legislation as soon as next week.
While contract law allows property owners to ban unwanted behaviors, including cigarette smoking or pet ownership, some landlords say they have been unsure whether the same rules apply for medical marijuana, which is used to treat health conditions they cannot always ask about.
Michelle Foley, who manages a townhouse community in Ann Arbor, recently told lawmakers that she has had two residents use their basements to grow medical marijuana. While she did not try to terminate their lease, she did not allow them to renew. Still, the “pungent odor” lingered long after one tenant left.
“We had to replace the carpeting throughout and we rented a commercial size ozone machine for five days,” Foley said, explaining that she spent an extra $280 cleaning the unit and lost out on roughly $1,900 in rent in the process. “The odor was still present so we had to have the ducts cleaned.”
While one notable marijuana advocate has downplayed concerns with the legislation, several others spoke out during a committee hearing last month, suggesting the bill would erode patient protections and potentially lead to criminal penalties for behavior currently protected by the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act of 2008.
“These immunities were intended to protect patients in their employment, driving and housing, but all three protections have been squandered at one point or another,” said Thomas Lavigne, an attorney with the Cannabis Counsel in Detroit. “The state’s dishonest administration of the medical marijuana law, in every branch of government, proves that it lacks the compassion needed to administer such a law in practice.”
Denise Pollicella, a Howell attorney who has represented medical marijuana patients and landlords, said she agreed that property owners need wide berth to evict tenants who are causing damage but argued that the bill would have unintended consequences.
“This bill would truly made de facto police officers out of landlords and insert criminal penalties into what is currently consumer contract,” Pollicella said. “By removing protections of the Medical Medical Marihuana Act, you are telling them they are no longer patients or caregivers, and that places them squarely into our public health code as simply drug users at that point.”
Senate Bill 783 now heads to the House for consideration.