The Rules of TransactionBy Lance Farrell
Thanks to the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMA), marijuana patients and caregivers had a safe marketplace in Mt. Pleasant’s Compassionate Apothecary. No longer subject to horticultural vagaries, certified patients were able to obtain the consistent medicine required to manage their pain and illnesses.
“Honestly, I thought it was like an answer from God,” Darcy Norris says of Compassionate. Norris, a lupus patient experiencing severe pain, vomiting, and nausea, depended on medical marijuana to obtain relief. Her caregiver was not always able to supply her with cannabis, so a dispensary like Compassionate was an answer to her prayers.
Her safe and affordable access came to a screeching halt when Isabella County Prosecutor Larry Burdick filed for an injunction against Compassionate operators Brandon McQueen and Matthew Taylor in December 2010. Without a single complaint from local citizens, Burdick claimed Compassionate was a public nuisance and argued that patient-to-patient transfers or sales of medicinal cannabis were not permitted under the MMA.
After Burdick failed to convince a trial court, the Court of Appeals overturned the circuit court’s pro-access verdict in August of 2011, citing the absence of instructions from the MMA on how patients can obtain medical marijuana if they don’t have a caregiver.
In their ruling, the Court of Appeals determined (wrongly, some said) that “sale” and “medical use” to be mutually exclusive terms and ruled Compassionate exceeded the narrower access allegedly intended by the MMA. McQueen and Taylor appealed this controversial ruling.
Appearing before the state Supreme Court on Oct. 11, Lansing-based Compassionate attorney Mary Chartier argued the Court’s departure from the plain language of the MMA action indicated a desire to “legislate from the bench.” This “judicial activism” thwarts the will of the Michigan electorate and denies safe access to thousands of qualified patients, she insisted.
“I don’t think it harms the community to have an entity such as [a dispensary],” she contended, but what the Court of Appeals did was to “foreclose affordable and safe access for patients.”
The Court, Chartier continued, ignored explicit MMA language which clearly defines medical use to include the transfer of marijuana between qualified patients and caregivers.
In State v. McQueen, Burdick claimed transfers are limited to caregiver and patient relationships established only through formal registration procedures.
Chartier also contested the state’s assertion that sales were not permitted under the MMA. “Attaching a price to a transfer is immaterial under the MMA,” she argued.
Chartier said was inconsistent to argue that sales at pharmacies across Michigan are lawful, yet at the same time deny similar sales in regards to comparable transfers for medical marijuana patients. If money can change hands when you get meds at CVS, why can’t money change hands when you go to a dispensary to get meds?
The state, however, argued for a more exclusive reading of the MMA statute, and claimed that compensation is allowed to recoup only caregiving costs, not the fees Compassionate had collected from its members.
Though McQueen and Taylor’s right to operate a dispensary is currently under review, the case is ultimately not about dispensaries, Chartier concluded. This is about making it easier for caregivers and patients to conduct transactions involving a state-approved medicine. Accordingly, Chartier is not sympathetic to retrograde efforts to block safe and affordable access.
“Who I am most sympathetic to is the cancer patient who can’t gain access to the medication she needs. That’s who I am sympathetic to,” Chartier said.
The Supreme Court is expected to announce a ruling in July 2013.
When prosecutors argued that this state’s Medical Marihuana Act does not allow patient-to-patient sales or transfers of medical cannabis, the consequences of that flawed line of reasoning would be grave to patients. If, in fact, such sales were illegal, patients would be facing a felony charge, a possible 4-year sentence and/or a $20,000 fine, according to a post on Lansing-based Newburg Law’s blog. Even the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs acknowledges that money can change hands when it states that a “caregiver may receive reasonable compensation for services provided to assist with a qualifying patient’s medical use of marihuana.”