Michigan Supreme Court takes on Medical Marijuana

by: Matt Newburg

03/04/2015 11:54 AM EST
Tags:
  criminal  
  criminal law  
  marijuana  
  mma  
  section 4  
  section 8  

January 14, 2015 will be, perhaps the biggest day in the Michigan Supreme Court for Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Patients and Caregivers.  The Court will hear a total of three cases that discuss Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Act and the defenses that are embodied within the statute.  The two cases that discuss the heart of Section 4 and Section 8 are Hartwick and Tuttle:

People v Richard Lee Hartwick / People v Tuttle:

Richard Hartwick, was arrested for illegally growing and possessing marijuana, holds a registry identification card under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA). He claimed that mere possession of the card entitled him to (1) immunity from prosecution under § 4 of the MMMA and, in the alternative, (2) an affirmative defense under § 8 of the MMMA. The trial court rejected Hartwick’s theory and instead held that Mr. Hartwick was not entitled to immunity under § 4 and that he had not presented the requisite evidence to make an affirmative defense under § 8. Mr. Hartwick appealed. In a published opinion, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling. Mr. Hartwick appealed to the Supreme Court of Michigan. 

Mr. Tuttle was arrested for selling marijuana to a confidential informant of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office. He was subsequently charged with the sale and production of marijuana and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm).   Mr. Tuttle holds a valid registry identification card under the MMMA. He claimed that possession of the card entitles him to (1) immunity from prosecution under § 4 of the MMMA for the charges not relating to the sale of marijuana, and (2) an affirmative defense under § 8 of the MMMA for all the charges. In addition, Mr. Tuttle argued that the testimony of his medical marijuana patients allows him to assert the § 8 affirmative defense. The trial court rejected both arguments and held that Mr. Tuttle was not entitled to immunity under § 4 and that he had not presented the requisite evidence to make an affirmative defense under § 8.  Mr. Tuttle appealed. In a published opinion, the Court of Appeals rejected his arguments and held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it (1) ruled that Mr. Tuttle was not entitled to immunity from criminal prosecution under § 4, (2) denied his request for dismissal under § 8, and (3) held that he could not present the § 8 defense at trial. Mr. Tuttle appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. 

The Michigan Supreme Court granted leave in both of these cases and directed their lawyers to discuss the following issues:   (1) whether a defendant’s entitlement to immunity under § 4 of the MMA Act (MMMA) is a question of law for the trial court to decide; (2) whether factual disputes regarding § 4 immunity are to be resolved by the trial court; (3) if so, whether the trial court’s finding of fact becomes an established fact that cannot be appealed; (4) whether a defendant’s possession of a valid registry identification card establishes any presumption for purposes of § 4 or § 8; (5) if not, what is a defendant’s evidentiary burden to establish immunity under § 4 or an affirmative defense under § 8; (6) what role, if any, do the verification and confidentiality provisions in § 6 of the act play in establishing entitlement to immunity under § 4 or an affirmative defense under § 8; and (7) whether the Court of Appeals erred in characterizing a qualifying patient’s physician as issuing a prescription for, or prescribing, marijuana.

People v Cynthia Mazur and Section (4)(i) of the MMA:

The third case is People of the State of Michigan v. Cynthia Mazur.  That case discusses the protections afforded to “a person” under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. 

The police arrested Ms. Mazure and her husband after discovering marijuana growing in their basement.  At the time, her husband was a registered and qualifying patient and was the primary caregiver for two other patients under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA).  Ms. Mazur was charged with one count of possession with intent to deliver less than five kilograms or fewer than 20 plants of marihuana, MCL 333.7401(2)(d)(iii), and one count of manufacturing less than five kilograms or fewer than 20 plants of marihuana, MCL 333.7401(2)(d)(iii).  Her husband pled guilty to similar charges.  But Ms. Mazur moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that she was entitled to immunity under § 4(g) of the MMMA [providing “marihuana paraphernalia” to a registered qualifying patient or registered primary caregiver for purposes of the “medical use of marihuana”] or § 4(i) [merely being in the presence or vicinity of “the medical use of marihuana” in accordance with the act].  She also sought leave to assert an affirmative defense under § 8.

The trial court denied her motions and she appealed. The Court of Appeals in an unpublished opinion affirmed the trial court’s ruling defendant was not immune from prosecution under the MMMA and that defendant was not entitled to assert a § 8 affirmative defense. She appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court and in an order dated October 23, 2014, the Supreme Court granted the application for leave to appeal the April 1, 2014 judgment of the Court of Appeals. The Court directed the Clerk to schedule oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other action and directed the parties to submit briefs addressing whether the defendant is entitled to immunity under § 4 of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) where her spouse was a registered qualifying patient and primary caregiver under the act, but his marijuana-related activities inside the family home were not in full compliance with the act.

Oral arguments will be held at the Michigan Supreme Court building and will begin shortly after 8:30.

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