Michigan Supreme Court Shuts Down Medical Marijuana Dispensaries
The Michigan Supreme Court outlawed medical marijuana distribution schemes pot farmers have been using since 2008 to achieve some basic economy of scale and, imagine this, make money from the effort. The Act provides immunities and defenses for legitimate “patients” and “caregivers”, but pecuniary schemes like the one at issue in this casenote are clearly not protected by the MMMA.
Compassionate Apothecary, a medical marijuana dispensary, or “provisioning center”, was the business model that underwent recent scrutiny by the Michigan Supreme Court in People v McQueen. The Court’s decision spells the end of these easy distribution schemes.
The Compassionate Apothecary (CA) was a “pot club”, if you will. Except for their revenue generation, this club was run about as close to the requirements of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act as possible. Our High Court, however, determined that the scheme did not comply with the Act, largely on pecuniary grounds.
Brandon McQueen was both a registered patient and the primary care giver to three patients. His business partner, Matthew Taylor, cared for two registered qualifying patients. Together, they ran CA, a membership organization with a physical location consisting of lockers for pot storage and transfer. To be a member, you have to verify your status as a “card-carrying” patient or provider.
The High Court’s syllabus best describes how the collective operated:
To be a member of CA, an individual had to be either a registered qualifying patient or a registered primary caregiver. Caregivers could only be members of CA if a qualifying patient with whom he or she was connected through the state’s registration process was also a member. Patients and caregivers who were members of CA could rent lockers from CA. Patients would rent lockers from CA when they had grown more marijuana than they needed to treat their own debilitating medical conditions and wanted to make the excess available to other patients. Caregivers would rent lockers when their patients did not need all the marijuana that they had grown. Patients and caregivers desiring to purchase marijuana from another member’s locker could view the available marijuana strains in CA’s display room. After the patient or caregiver had made a selection, a CA employee would retrieve the marijuana from the appropriate locker, weigh and package the marijuana, and record the purchase. The price of the marijuana would be set by the member who rented the locker, but CA kept a service fee for each transaction.CA’s recorded pricing and service fees placed them out of compliance with the Act. Thus, it was a no-brainer for the High Court to affirm the intermediate appellate court and outlaw dispensaries.
In Ypsilanti, Third Coast Compassion Club takes issue with the decision. Without disclosing whether Third Coast charges different prices for various pot strains, or fees to facilitate transactions, their spokesperson said, “ultimately, we’re a private club, not a public store…” Well, good luck with that…
While the decision no doubt spells hardship for those in the, er, budding industry, Jim Lynch of the Detroit News observes “Panicked Uncertainty”. Hardly; but dedicated legitimate patients must now go underground or grow their own.
Free Press coverage touched on the legislative history of the Act; the Freep spoke with pot lobbyist Tim Beck of Detroit, a retired health insurance executive who was one of the scriveners of the original proposal put on the 2008 ballot. Beck indicated the words “sale” or “dispensary” were far too dangerous to use in the ballot initiative, so they were deliberately kept out of the text of the initiative.
The distribution concept integrated into the MMMA is one of: “grow your own”. Professional horticulturists were not contemplated by the initiative and are not found within the scope of the Act.
Michigan Attorney General William Schuette, who joined the Isabella County Prosecutor in filing the complaint for a permanent injunction against Compassionate Apothecary as a public nuisance, said the Supreme Court’s decision clarifies the MMMA as follows:
The law does not allow retail sales of medical marijuana.
Sales or transfers are limited to those between caregivers and their five registered patients.
Sales or transfers between registered patients are barred.
Caregivers are not protected when selling or transferring marijuana to unregistered patients.
Among the patients and caregivers that commented to the state’s media yesterday, the theme seemed to be, “where am I gonna get my pot now?” Some medical marijuana patients that spoke with the Oakland Press, the Detroit News and Free Press said they were disappointed in the ruling because it will make marijuana more difficult to obtain.
87th District State Rep Mike Callton (R Nashville) introduced a bill last May which he characterizes as follows:
This isn't about restricting anyone's freedom or access to a substance that is now legal for those with a prescription. This is about making sure patients are safe and the product is safe. Since medical marijuana became legal in Michigan, dispensaries are popping up left and right and we need to make sure these places pass the grandma test.Well, technically, the Act refers to a physician “certification”, not prescription; like the word “sale”, the word “prescription” does not appear in the MMMA. So, to fill-in this gap, Rep Callton articulates the “grandma test” on his official website:
If you wouldn't feel safe having your grandma go to one of these places to pick up her medical marijuana, as if she went to a pharmacy, then it needs to be cleaned up or closed down.Bottom line: the Supreme Court’s decision is a rationale application of the MMMA. Legitimate patients can legally obtain and use marijuana. But, growers beware; and take care not to make a profit, least you find yourself on the wrong side of felony charges.
For now anyway, pot farming is a labor of love…
Labels: Brandon McQueen, Compassionate Apothecary, criminal defense lawyer, dispensary, Matthew Taylor, medical marijuana, Michigan Court of Appeals, Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, Michigan Supreme Court