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Okay to Smoke Marijuana in Your Car?

Michigan Court of Appeals Says “No”

The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) has caused a great deal of contention and confusion in the few years since it’s inception. In part this is because, on a federal level, marijuana is still completely illegal in every aspect. The result is enormous conflict between federal and state law. But in another regard, this is simply because the law itself harbors a great deal of gray areas. It’s open to interpretation from a legal standpoint. And everyone who interprets it seems to come up with something different.

For example, a recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision dealt with the issue of what exactly constitutes “private” with regard to where a person can smoke marijuana. State law allows for a legal medical marijuana patient to smoke marijuana in private. The implication, say many prosecutors, is that a licensed medical marijuana user will smoke in the privacy of their own home. But not everyone interprets the law that way.

In 2013, Robert Michael Carlton was caught and arrested, after he was found to be smoking marijuana inside his vehicle. But the issue had less to do with the pot, or the car for that matter. The issue was that he was in the parking lot of the Soaring Eagle Casino at the time that he lit up.

Carlton was charged with possession of marijuana, although he was later determined to be a licensed medical marijuana patient. And according to his defense attorneys, he was sitting in his car when he lit up the joint. A car that he owned, which would lead one to believe that he was technically on private property. In addition, his vehicle was locked, which means that the marijuana wasn’t in any way accessible to the public.

But the prosecutor still had an issue with the fact that his car was on the casino’s property at the time. It has been over two years since Carlton’s arrest. The matter has finally been decided by the Michigan Court of Appeals. And medical marijuana smokers across the state aren’t going to be excited with the results.

In a seven page opinion released just days ago,  justices Michael J. Kelly and Christopher M. Murray explained why they regard Carlton’s vehicle as a public place. And why that excludes him from the protections afforded to medical marijuana users under the MMMA.

A public place is any place that is open to, and may be used by the public, the two justices wrote. And that includes any private parking lots which are open to the public. The comparison they drew was to that of public bathrooms. The court reasoned that a stall in a public bathroom, although private in itself, is located in a public bathroom, which constitutes a public place. A parking lot, they explained, is exactly the same.

So for those of you who are legal under state law when it comes to the use of medical marijuana, we would advise you to only your medicine in the privacy of your own home, where the long arm of the law is less likely to interfere.

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