Medical marijuana patients cannot smoke weed inside their personal vehicle if it is parked outside a public establishment, according to the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Three judges locked horns last week in a case surrounding medical marijuana cardholder Robert Carlton, who was busted in 2013 for smoking a joint in his car while parked outside the Soaring Eagle Casino in Mount Pleasant. Police charged the man with a violation to the state’s public consumption laws.
Although lower courts previously determined that Carlton was well within his rights to use his personal vehicle to medicate in private, that decision was overturned on Tuesday in a decision of 2 to 1.
In their published opinion, Judges Michael J. Kelly and Christopher Murray said that Carlton’s defense was based on a loose interpretation of public and private.
“The fact that a public place was intended to be used in private does not alter the public character of that place,” the judges wrote. “A person who goes into a restroom that is generally open to the public, enters a stall, and closes the door, does not thereby transform the stall from a public place to a private place.”
However, the verdict was not unanimous, as Judge Douglas Shapiro handed down an alternative ruling, which argued, “The majority is too quick to ignore the common-sense privacy component of a personal vehicle.”
“The majority looks only at whether the vehicle itself is in a place defined as public,” Shapiro wrote. “But the statutory language leaves open the possibility that in some circumstances a private vehicle can constitute a ‘private place’ even though it is located in an area to which the public has access.”
Nevertheless, the majority ultimately decided, “Smoking marijuana in a public place should continue to be criminally prosecuted, even when done for a medical purpose.”
Although Carlton’s charge was reinstated, all three judges said that he should be given an opportunity to defend himself in front of a jury, and that the court should instruct them to determine the definition of public and private as it pertains to the state’s medical marijuana laws.
Although the ruling is a bit of a cop out for the Court of Appeals, it is consistent with the manner for which higher courts have been handling varying interpretations of the medical marijuana laws for the past few months.
Over the summer, the Michigan Supreme Court decided to hand a marijuana case back to the circuit court, establishing four points for judges to consider when determining if defendants should be prosecuted.
“The many inconsistencies in the law have caused confusion for medical marijuana caregivers and patients, law enforcement, attorneys, and judges and have consumed valuable public and private resources to interpret and apply it,” Justice Brian Zahra wrote in July.
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