The Michigan Supreme Court dropped two decisions recently that impact the medical marijuana community.
Both Richard Lee HARTWICK and Robert TUTTLE were medical marijuana patients registered with the state of Michigan. Tuttle stood accused of selling marijuana to a patient with whom he was not connected through the state process. Hartwick was registered as a patient and was properly connected to five other individuals through the Michigan state database. He was in possession of 3.9 ounces of marijuana; he was certified to have 12.5 ounces on his person.
Although those details seem very easy to understand, the Courts became embroiled in a battle over what role doctors play in the process, how much information a registered caregiver is required to know about his/her patient, what is the standard of compliance for medical marijuana patients and the relationship with their doctor, what proofs are required for such in a court of law, and so on.
The Opinions, written by Justice Brian Zahara, were unanimously agreed to by the Court. Their findings (numbers added for ease of reading):
1. The availability of immunity under § 4 of the MMMA is a question of law to be decided before trial, and a defendant has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence his or her entitlement to immunity. Immunity must be claimed for each charged offense, and the burden of proving immunity is separate and distinct for each offense.
2. Conduct that is noncompliant with the MMMA with respect to one charged offense does not automatically rebut the presumption of medical use with respect to conduct relating to any other charged offenses. Rather, noncompliant conduct involved in one charged offense can negate otherwise compliant conduct involved in a separate charged offense if there is a nexus between the noncompliant and the otherwise compliant conduct.
3. Raising an affirmative defense under § 8 of the MMMA requires a caregiver to present prima facie evidence of each element of the defense for him- or herself and for each registered qualifying patient to which the caregiver is connected. Having established a prima facie case, the defendant has the burden of proving each element by a preponderance of the evidence.
4. A valid registry identification card does not create any presumption for purposes of § 8.
In detail, the Court stated the Appeals Court erred in denying Hartwick a fair trial on the question of his immunity because they did not weigh all the facts; they are ordered to give him a new hearing. The Appellate Judges did not err in denying Hartwick an Affirmative Defense trial, because Hartwick did not present all the necessary components of evidence to warrant one. The Supreme Court ruled that, in order to earn a Section 8 trial, one must prove all medical questions regarding the patients involved.
The Opinion reads:
Hartwick failed to provide evidence of a bona fide physician-patient relationship for himself, as a patient, and his connected patients, he failed to provide evidence that a physician conducted a full assessment of his and his patients' medical histories and current medical conditions, and he failed to show that a physician determined that he and his patients had debilitating medical conditions that would likely benefit from the medical use of marijuana. Hartwick further failed to present prima facie evidence that the amount of marijuana he possessed was not more than was reasonably necessary to ensure its uninterrupted availability for the treatment of his and his patients' debilitating medical conditions. Finally, Hartwick failed to present prima facie evidence that he and his patients were engaged in the use of marijuana for a medical purpose.
In Tuttle, the Justices ruled that the Court of Appeals was wrong because "MMMA-compliant conduct is not automatically tainted by the defendant's improper conduct related to a different charged offense unless there is a nexus between the improper conduct and the otherwise proper conduct."
The Court of Appeals properly held that Tuttle could not claim the affirmative defense under § 8 because he failed to establish prima facie evidence of at least one of the elements of the defense for each of his possibly connected patients. Specifically, Tuttle failed to provide evidence of the actual amount of marijuana needed to treat his patients; the evidence showed only the actual amount of marijuana each patient obtained from Tuttle. In addition, Tuttle failed to show that one patient had undergone a full medical assessment in the course of a bona fide physician-patient relationship.
This pair of rulings from the state's highest Court seems to place an extraordinary burden on defense teams and gives incredible advantage to impeach the legitimacy of illness claimed by Michigan's medical marijuana patient population. A new standard of physician responsibility is established, as is a new standard of record-keeping for caregivers and their patient's medical status. Caregiver may be found to be acting out of compliance because of an error their patient made, an error the caregiver had no knowledge of.
To be sure, these rulings will spark debate and controversy among Michigan's medical marijuana population for some time. The Compassion Chronicles will detail legitimate legal interpretations and offer guidance for those trying to remain compliant with the ever-changing definition of what it takes to remain a legally-compliant medical marijuana patient in the Great Lakes State
Source: The Compassion Chronicles