This week, the ACLU is defending the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act before the state’s Supreme Court and the stakes could not be higher.
Powerful interest groups have filed briefs asking the Supreme Court to declare that the entire medical marijuana law is “void in its entirety” and without effect. If the court agrees, legal protections for more than 125,000 patients and caregivers could be wiped out with the stroke of a pen.
The case began almost three years ago when John Ter Beek, a retired attorney and medical marijuana patient, learned that medical marijuana was being banned in Wyoming, MI the town where he lived.
Like so many other patients with serious illnesses, John's quality of life had vastly improved when his primary care physician recommended that he try medical marijuana in compliance with Michigan law. That's why he was shocked that his ability to use medical marijuana was threatened by a local ordinance passed by Wyoming’s City Council that bans medical marijuana throughout the city.
That’s right—even though the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act legalized medical marijuana throughout the state, a city wants to pretend the law doesn't exist within its boundaries.
John joined us at the ACLU of Michigan to fight this injustice, filing a lawsuit challenging the local ordinance as a violation of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. We won in front of the Michigan Court of Appeals, where the judges unanimously rejected the city of Wyoming’s arguments that the city can ignore state law because medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
But now the fight that began as a challenge to one small city's ordinance will decide if seriously ill patients can receive the care they need in our state, as the Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to hear Wyoming’s appeal.
It's particularly bizarre that the city of Wyoming and special interest groups are trying to use federal law to nullify the entire Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, asthe Department of Justice itself has a policy of not enforcing federal marijuana law against patients and caregivers who are complying with their states’ medical marijuana laws. The Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan and a section of the State Bar of Michigan have both filed briefs asking the Michigan Supreme Court to declare the entire state law void and without effect because it somehow interferes with federal law enforcement efforts.
Yet make no mistake: If these arguments are accepted by a majority of the justices of the Michigan Supreme Court, the progress we’ve made on medical marijuana in Michigan will come to an abrupt and screeching halt.
Michigan is one of 20 states that allow medical marijuana under state law, and public opinion polls in Michigan and throughout the country consistently show widespread support for medical marijuana.
As the ACLU’s brief explains, there is nothing wrong with Michigan’s voters making their own decision not to prohibit medical marijuana even though there is technically no medical exception in the federal statute. Since the founding of our republic, the 50 states have been “laboratories of democracy” where new laws are tried out on a small scale with the hope that the successful laws can one day be implemented nationwide.
This is how we make progress in our country. Let's hope one small city's misguided ban doesn't take away the hard-won treatment for patients across our state.
By Dan Korobkin, Staff Attorney