News.Medical marijuana advocates: State has us in ‘Catch 22’

By Carol Hopkins
For the Daily Tribune

Oakland County medical marijuana advocates are unhappy about Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s reaction to a case concerning a medical marijuana card-holder who was arrested for driving under the influence of drugs.

Schuette filed a brief in support of the Grand Traverse County prosecutor’s appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals in People v. Koon, a case in which Koon, a medical marijuana user, was charged with driving with marijuana in his system.

Michigan’s motor vehicle code prohibits drivers from operating a motor vehicle with any amount of a Schedule 1 substance in the body.

Schuette argued that while the Medical Marijuana Act “provides limited protection to certain individuals who use marijuana in accordance with the act, it does not offer protection to those who then drive with marijuana in their system.

“Therefore, the zero-tolerance standard established by the Michigan motor vehicle code should followed to protect public safety.”

Rick Thompson, editor of Oak Park-based Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine, said he believed “it’s obvious the Attorney General isn’t using common sense.”

Thompson called trying to balance zero-tolerance with the Medical Marihuana Act a “Catch 22.”

“You’re allowed to be a (medical marijuana) patient but you are not allowed to drive,” he said.

“Zero tolerance is a bad policy. It’s going to cost honest patients their liberty.”

John W. Hart, a Lake Orion resident who has followed medical marijuana cases and coverage in Michigan, applauds Schuette’s position.

“It (medical marijuana) is all a farce. The law has so many gray areas,” said Hart.

“You can’t operate a motor vehicle with medical marijuana in your system. It’s the law.”

Jeffrey Perlman, a Southfield-based attorney who has advocated for medical marijuana patients and caregivers in the recent Oakland County cases, disagrees with the Attorney General’s stance.

“Medical marijuana stays in a person’s system for up to 30 days, but it doesn’t mean you are impaired,” he said.

“To take a person’s driving privileges away because they are on a medicine you don’t approve of — but a doctor does — is unacceptable.”

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper noted that “driving under the influence is not even allowed under the state medical marijuana act.

“It’s not a defense.”

Rodney Koon was charged on May 21, 2010 by the Grand Traverse County Prosecutor’s office for driving under the influence of a drug (OUID).

Koon, a medical marijuana user, had been stopped for speeding on Feb. 3, 2010 and admitted to smoking marijuana that day. A blood test showed evidence of active THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — in Koon’s system.

The Traverse City Record-Eagle reported Koon said he smoked marijuana six hours before he was stopped.

Grand Traverse County district and circuit courts concluded that language in the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act superseded the motor vehicle code and required the prosecutor to demonstrate Koon was actually impaired by the marijuana in his system.

“This law must not be interpreted in a way that puts the safety of people on the roads at risk,” said Schuette.

“Michigan law makes clear that driving with drugs in your system is illegal. Allowing anyone to do so puts the lives of our families and friends unnecessarily in jeopardy.”

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