KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — As Michigan becomes for the state in the Midwest to legalize recreational marijuana, many questions remain about how the new law will be enforced.
24 Hour News 8 took viewer questions to Sarissa Montague, who is a criminal defense attorney with Levine & Levine in Kalamazoo.
“I think the most important thing for people to understand is that even though marijuana is going to be legal it is not necessarily allowed. Those are two very different things,” Montague said. “It’s going to be really interesting for the next few weeks, months and years from all different perspectives.”
Questions surrounding gun ownership, foster care and future businesses are areas Montague said will likely be litigated before there is a clear approach. The law isn’t specific enough to answer those specific questions just yet.
“If something is not specifically identified or defined in this act we are going to need to look to other places to see what’s allowed and not allowed,” Montague explained. “Maybe they will — they being the legislature — maybe they’ll make amendments to the criminal code such that it addresses this.”
WHAT SHOULD PEOPLE KNOW RIGHT AWAY?
“Using marijuana in a public space, I think as a general rule everybody should assume that is not allowed. The legislation does speak to that. It’s not allowed. Operating a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana is definitely not allowed and that is going to be a very interesting topic over the next weeks months years,” Montague said.
People should also check their employer’s policy on pot.
“Just because it is legal doesn’t necessarily mean that your employer needs to allow it,” Montague added. They are allowed to hire, fire, not hire, not fire, to do whatever they want. People who use marijuana are not a protected class and I think that’s what people need to understand is that employers still are going to have the right to make decisions even though marijuana is legal.”
Montague believes Michigan’s prosecutors will use their own discretion when choosing to try or dismiss certain cases, so people should be cautious if deciding to partake in the guidelines the new law sets for recreational pot.
HOW DOES THIS IMPACT TRAFFIC STOPS?
One of the questions asked the most by viewers surrounds traffic stops and subsequent searches.
“This is an issue that’s going to be litigated throughout the courts I think probably more so than anything else,” Montague responded. “Over my 10 years of experience as a criminal defense lawyer in southwest Michigan, I can not tell you the amount of times I have seen a vehicle get searched because of the smell of marijuana.”
The new law prohibits smoking marijuana inside a car, meaning officers conducting a traffic stop could have probable cause to search a vehicle if the smell is noticeable.
“But what about the smell of fresh marijuana? Transporting marijuana is now legal, so that is going to be a different set of circumstances that I think we are going to spend a lot of time litigating,” Montague said.
She cited the medical marijuana law as an example for how certain questions surrounding recreational pot will likely play out in the court system.