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Michigan's medical marijuana dispensaries on shaky legal ground

It has been more than seven years since Michigan voters approved the state’s medical marijuana law, but a great deal of uncertainty still surrounds the system. Case in point: dispensaries.

As the Holland Sentinel recently discussed, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that local authorities can deem a medical marijuana dispensary a public nuisance and shut it down. Thus, dispensaries are illegal in Michigan, right?

Well, sort of. Since the Court left enforcement up to law enforcement, it appears that the ability of dispensaries to operate depends on the whims of your local police department. For example, there are at least 200 dispensaries currently operating in Detroit, and a handful more known to be in business around Michigan.

What we do know is the text of the statute, the 2008 Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA). The law allows “primary caregivers” to distribute marijuana to up to five patients at a time. The caregiver may cultivate up to 12 plants and possess up to 2.5 ounces of process marijuana, and must keep a registry of his or her patients.

This, along with the Supreme Court decision, puts dispensaries in a difficult legal position, an attorney for the Cannabis Council, a group that advocates for medical marijuana. To be a viable business, a dispensary must have a large number of caregivers. With police raiding dispensaries in so many parts of the state, many people who need medical marijuana have no reliable way of getting it, the attorney said.

It may take further legislation or another state Supreme Court decision to end this uncertainty. Until then, caregivers charged with a drug crime will need a vigorous legal defense to give them the best chance of a fair resolution.

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