Medical marijuana caregivers and cultivators in Michigan can't process their plants without breaking the law as a result of a Michigan Court of Appeals decision this month, according to cannabis lawyers.
"Wet marijuana" -- a loose term for the time between when a marijuana plant is cut and fully dried for consumption -- is not covered by state law, according to a Court of Appeals ruling July 19.
"Now, they've made it so you can't even comply with the law," said Matthew Abel, senior partner of Cannabis Counsel LLC. "Obviously, it doesn't go immediately from being a plant to being dried cannabis. There has to be a drying, or curing process. I think this court lacks some understanding."
The appeals court case -- People v. Vanessa Mansour -- stems from an incident in which police raided Mansour's Troy home, where there were marijuana plants, buds in various stages of drying, and dried marijuana buds. Mansour was a medical marijuana patient.
Michigan's first licensed medical marijuana facilities in limbo
A key component of the seed-to-sale system - safety compliance - has not yet been licensed.
Mansour's defense argued that the marijuana that was drying was not usable -- and therefore qualified her for immunity under state law and should not be considered as authorities drew up their charges. A Michigan Court of Appeals decision had set precedent for that argument, said one of Mansour's lawyers, Neil Rockind.
A trial court disagreed, and the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld that decision in its July 19 ruling. In its decision, the Court of Appeals relied heavily on a previous ruling it had made -- People v. Carruthers -- before state law was changed.
"To say that the legislature makes it legal to possess growing plants and to possess a limited amount of finished product -- but that in between, everybody is just illegal -- that's the interpretation that the Court of Appeals has hoisted on everybody," Rockind said.
The Carruthers ruling is outdated and not relevant, Rockind said. Rockind said it conflicts with state law and with People vs. Manuel, which the Court of Appeals previously decided.
The Michigan Supreme Court has already had to refer a medical marijuana case back to the Court of Appeals due to the Manuel ruling, Rockind said.
"I don't think the legal system has for the most part embraced the medical marijuana initiative," Rockind said. "I think the legal system has been very slow, and in some ways defensive, of a view of marijuana as illegal."
Abel said the ruling was not logical and didn't make sense -- and makes it difficult for lawyers like him to give sound legal advice to clients.
"Someone needs to give the judges a forensic exam to see if they're all there," Abel said. "What they've done is continue to make a mess of the law."
Rockind said he plans to take the case to the Michigan Supreme Court.
"We fully intend to appeal, we're not going to back down from a fight and we're not going to back down from this fight," Rockind said. "On behalf of my client and our clients, for patients, caregivers and all of us this fight has to be fought."
Medical marijuana in Michigan has faced a bumpy road since votersapproved a ballot measure in 2008. The Michigan legislature attempted to clarify the system in 2017, but the subsequent licensing and regulatory system has been slow to get off the ground.
The first medical marijuana licenses were issued July 12. A key component in the new framework -- a marijuana testing facility -- has yet to be licensed, delaying the full launch of the industry under the new system.
Voters in Michigan will soon be asked to consider a ballot proposal Nov. 8 that would make recreational marijuana legal in the state.