This is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We have finally crossed the half-way point. The states featured going forward generally have mixed laws when it comes to cannabis. Some good, some bad, and some ugly. Today we turn to number 18: Michigan.
Our previous rankings are as follows: 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah; 31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal Penalties. The possession of any amount of marijuana can earn up to 1 year in prison and a maximum fine of $2,000. The use of marijuana can earn up to 90 days in prison and a maximum fine of $100. A person who faces a possession or use charge may earn a conditional discharge, provided that he or she has no prior offenses.
The exchange of marijuana without remuneration (i.e., a gift) earns up to 1 year in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000. The sale of under 5 kilograms earns up to 4 years in prison and a maximum fine of $20,000. The sale of between 5-45 kilograms earns up to 7 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000. The sale of over 45 kilograms earns up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000,000.
Medical Marijuana. In 2008, voters passed the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA), legalizing medical marijuana. The act was ambiguous and complicated. In a case reviewing the act, Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Peter J. O’Connell acknowledged this and made the following warning:
Reading this act is similar to participating in the Triwizard Tournament described in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: the maze that is this statute is so complex that the final result will only be known once the Supreme Court has had an opportunity to review and remove the haze from this act.
Several attempted legislative fixes and court challenges failed to clarify the law (Michigan Radio, the local NPR affiliate, provides a helpful timeline). In 2013 the Michigan Supreme Court issued an opinion clarifying the MMMA. In State of Michigan v. McQueen, the court ruled that the MMMA did not permit marijuana dispensaries and prohibited unrestricted retail sales of marijuana. As a result, Michigan closed medical marijuana dispensaries. A recent opinion from a Michigan Court of Appeals has affirmed that patients are limited in how they can obtain medical cannabis. Patients can grow their own marijuana or obtain it from a caregiver who can provide marijuana for no more than five patients. Patients who choose to grow their own cannabis must keep no more than 12 marijuana plants in a locked facility, not viewable by the public. If grown outdoors, the plants must remain in a fenced structure that restricts the public’s access to and view of the plants.
Patients must obtain a registration card after receiving a recommendation from a physician for a qualifying condition. The MMMA named several qualifying conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, and Alzheimer’s disease. Patients may also use medical marijuana to treat chronic and debilitating medical conditions not named in the statute if the condition or treatment for the condition causes two of the following side effects: cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe and chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe and persistent muscle spasms. Michigan will recognize medical marijuana authorizations from other states, provided that the other states also recognize Michigan cannabis authorizations.
Recreational Marijuana. Legalization proponents in Michigan are currently in a legal battle attempting to place a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. There is a challenge as to whether some signatures used to qualify the initiative for the ballot were over 180 days old, rendering them invalid. At this time, the fate of the legalization ballot is still unknown.
Bottomline. The criminal laws in Michigan are fairly middling. The penalties are in line with laws across the country. It is unfortunate that Michigan still criminalizes the use of marijuana. Michigan’s medical marijuana laws are a mess. Depending on how you feel about regulations, this could be deemed a positive or a negative. The state does not have dispensaries but does allow for homegrows. Some may view Michigan’s uncertainty as an opportunity to grow marijuana without interference from regulatory bodies. Others may see the lack of clarity as a reason to worry. It can be hard to predict the legality of a certain action when the rules are so unclear. Finally, although it may not happen in 2016, Michigan appears to be moving towards full legalization. Overall, Michigan marijuana is probably the most confusing state but still not too bad.