The Associated Press April 19, 2012, 10:49AM ET

Medical marijuana law no defense for Mich. drivers

Michigan's medical marijuana law doesn't shield people from charges if they are caught driving after using the drug, the state appeals court ruled Wednesday in another significant decision involving the 2008 voter-approved law.

A three-judge panel sided with the Grand Traverse County prosecutor in northern Michigan by restoring a criminal case against Rodney Koon, 50, a medical marijuana user who was stopped in 2010 for exceeding the speed limit by nearly 30 mph. He admitted smoking marijuana six hours earlier, and a blood test revealed the drug in his body.

Michigan law has zero tolerance for drivers who show evidence of certain drugs, but more than 130,000 people have state-issued cards allowing them to use marijuana to alleviate pain and other symptoms of chronic illness.

Two courts dismissed the charge against Koon, saying prosecutors had to show he was impaired. The appeals court, however, said the medical marijuana law "does not permit all types of medical use of marijuana under all circumstances."

"Driving is a particularly dangerous activity," judges David Sawyer, Peter O'Connell and Amy Ronayne Krause wrote in the ruling. "Schedule 1 substances are considered particularly inimical to a drivers' ability to remain in maximally safe control of their vehicles. The danger of failing to do so affects not only the driver, but anyone else in the vicinity."

A message seeking comment from Koon's attorney, James Hunt, was not immediately returned. In a court filing, Hunt argued that drivers who use medical marijuana should be treated like other people who legally consume prescription drugs.

A statewide association of Michigan prosecutors had called for the result delivered by the appeals court. There always will be some conduct that is considered legal, the group said, but only before someone gets behind the wheel of a car.

"Even texting, conduct that is otherwise legal and might even, at times, involve the communication of protected content under the First Amendment, is prohibited while operating a motor vehicle" in Michigan, prosecutors said in a court filing.

Many disputes over medical marijuana have hit the appeals court. In a major decision last year, the court said the new law doesn't allow the sale of medical marijuana through pot shops. The case has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.

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