Marijuana law vexes state law enforcement

By ALEX MITCHELL

Capital News Service

LANSING–Do cops have trouble enforcing Michigan’s medical marijuana law?

“Dude, what kind of question is that?” jokes Terrence Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

Joking aside, Jungel said that law enforcement is having problems with what he calls “the most poorly conceived piece of legislation I have ever seen.”

Ambiguity in the law has raised a number of concerns beyond the recent Court of Appeals ruling that commercially dispensing marijuana is illegal.

“There are a lot of nuances just to this law that have yet to be worked out and we are talking years before we get solutions to it,” Jungel said.

“If I stop you for drunk driving and you have medical marijuana with you and I put it in my evidence locker, I technically can’t give it back to you because it’s a federal violation of the law to give it back to you.”

Should a cop be allowed to get a medical marijuana card? Would you want him to carry a gun, or drive a car? Jungel asked.

As of now, employers must make the decision of whether to allow their employees to smoke medical marijuana. Few employers have made exceptions with many still requiring their employees to pass a drug test, license or not.

Employers everywhere have been struggling with the issue of how to handle employees with medical marijuana cards.  The American Civil Liberties Union says that nearly 1 million people nationwide use medical marijuana in the 16 states and the District of Columbia that legalized it.

“No one should ever have to choose between adequate pain relief and gainful employment,” said ACLU staff attorney Scott Michelman in a statement. The ACLU sued Wal-Mart in the case of Joseph Casias, a Battle Creek man who was fired from his job at Wal-Mart in 2010 for being a medical marijuana patient despite not smoking at work.

Jungel also raised the issue of whether or not patients should be allowed to smoke in federally-funded housing.

“If I have glaucoma and I have a right to have my medical marijuana for my glaucoma through compassionate care, and I am in a federally-funded housing project, and they don’t allow smoking in federally-funded housing projects and the person right above me, by the way, has emphysema, should I be allowed to smoke in my apartment?”

Medical Marijuana patient Nick Bates of Lansing says that while he doesn’t live in federally-funded housing, he does live in an apartment, and smoking can sometimes be a problem.

“I have had some neighbors complain about the smell,” Bates said. “I’m not trying to be rude, I just want to live my life and do what I am legally allowed to be without being persecuted for it.”

The law was passed in 2008 when the citizens of Michigan put it on the ballot by referendum and voted it in. Attorney General Bill Schuette has called it a poorly-written law with confusing inconsistencies. Jungel said that the state believed it would be able to implement the law how they saw fit, which hasn’t been the case. Many citizen advocates of the law are now saying the state is trying to remove a law the people voted for.

“Now we are at the point where it’s the law, and it’s going to be the law, and I doubt we get it repealed, though I would love to see it repealed,” Jungel said.

After the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in August that dispensaries are illegal, the majority of dispensaries around Michigan, including almost all in the Lansing area, closed their doors to patients.  However, Medicinal Solutions Compassionate Care Center in Adrian and the Ann Arbor Health Collective remained open.

The Adrian dispensary has a system of recording how much a member buys on a particular visit to ensure that they are staying within their legal limit of possessing two and a half ounces at a time and not buying copious amounts to potentially redistribute illegally. A major concern in ruling dispensaries illegal, according to Bates, was trying to change the business structure of dispensaries that were not showing accountability.

Some Lansing dispensaries were just selling marijuana without recording purchase amounts, and some were barely checking to make sure a buyer had the correct paperwork, Bates said.

All articles © 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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This entry was posted in Sept. 16, 2011, Social Policy by Alex Mitchell. Bookmark the permalink.

About Alex Mitchell

Alex Mitchell is a junior journalism major concentrating on sports reporting. He has written for the Blissfield Advance and wants to pursue a career in sports journalism after graduation. Alex is the correspondent for the Blissfield Advance, Cheboygan Daily Tribune, and Holland Sentinel. Contact Alex at mitch582@msu.edu.

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