DETROIT (AP) - For the first time in history, the Michigan Supreme Court weighed in on the state's medical marijuana act Thursday in a landmark decision setting precedent for all medical marijuana users.
Previously, anyone growing or using medical marijuana who didn't follow every detail of the law could be prosecuted as a felon -- and they wouldn't be allowed to use a medical condition as a defense.
But the ruling from the Supreme Court very clearly laid out two layers of protection for patients.
The first is that someone who has a medical marijuana card and acts in compliance with the law cannot be arrested or charged under the law.
The second is that if someone with a medical opinion from a doctor, but never registered for that state registration card, is caught with a reasonable amount of marijuana that they use for medical purposes, they can be arrested and charged -- but the case will likely be thrown out when it gets to court.
If it is unclear whether or not a defendant meets the criteria, the case goes to a jury.
Additionally, affected individuals need to have received the medical opinion before their arrest in order to use that defense.
Lawyer John Targowski has defended dozens of medical marijuana patients. He told 24 Hour News 8 the law has been unclear since it was enacted nearly four years ago.
Targowski also wanted to point out that the ruling does not amount to a get out of jail free card. Medical patients not in compliance with the law have to prove they meet those three criteria.
"In the last two or three years, I've probably handled 60 or 80 cases that would've been handled differently if this was the law," Targowski said.
Targowski has a handful of clients who this ruling will directly affect.
A doctor who prescribes marijuana said that the ruling makes patients more comfortable.
"My patients are very concerned about the fact that a lot of the legislation passed recently seems like a backdoor attempt to cripple the program," said Dr. David Crocker of Michigan Holistic Health. "Having the Supreme Court rule in a way that seems like it makes common sense, and it looks like it serves the patients."
Experts call this a landmark ruling in favor of the patients. Targowski told 24 Hour News 8 he was ecstatic when he read the unanimous opinions.
"63% of the people in this state voted for medical marijuana," Crocker added. "I feel it is incumbent upon the people who are tasked with representing the people in this state to come up with legislation that allows the program to run effectively and safely for our patients."
The Supreme Court ruling was based on two cases:
The first focused on Alexander Kolanek of Oakland County and insisted that he needed a doctor's statement confirming a medical need for marijuana after the state's medical marijuana law was enacted in 2008 and before his 2009 arrest.
The court in the same ruling sent another case to a trial judge. Larry King of Shiawassee County was charged with drug manufacturing because his plants were kept in an outdoor, locked chain-link dog kennel. The court said the medical marijuana cardholder was entitled to a hearing on whether his facility satisfied legal requirements.
It's the first time the Supreme Court has ruled in a medical marijuana case.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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