Medical marijuana patients in Michigan may not toke inside their cars while parked in public places, a court ruled in November.
The state’s three-justice Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 against a man found smoking cannabis inside his car while parked at the Soaring Eagle Casino two years ago. The fact that Robert Michael Carlton was in his car with the windows rolled up and the doors locked did not protect him from laws against public consumption, the court held.
Carlton was arrested in August 2013 and charged with marijuana possession after police determined he had smoked a joint in his car outside the casino. Security workers were watching a closed circuit camera system and told police they spotted him smoking in the parking lot. The misdemeanor possession charge stems from the alleged public consumption violation, prosecutors said.
Carlton is a legitimate MMJ patient
Carlton’s lawyer argued that the court should excuse Carlton because he’s a registered MMJ patient. His car was private property under the law, and it wasn’t open to the public, the lawyer said, so he shouldn’t be charged. The court disagreed.
Prosecutors argued that it didn’t matter whether Carlton was inside his car. The parking lot is open to the public, they said, and the fact he was parked there means he was toking in a public place.
A lower court judge had dismissed the case, ruling that Carlton was right. That decision was upheld by another state court. But the Court of Appeals reversed those rulings and sent the case back for prosecution. Michigan’s medicinal cannabis law bars patients from smoking “in any public place,” the justices wrote.
“The electors chose to exclude patients who smoke medical marijuana in any public place from the protections of the act,” wrote justices Michael J. Kelly and Christopher M. Murray, who sided with prosecutors.
Car was parked in a public area
The parking lot is a public place, the justices wrote, because it is accessible to anyone visiting the casino and because the public is explicitly allowed to use it. Carlton’s car may be private property, they said, but “the person is at the same time located in a public place.”
Justice Douglas Shapiro dissented, saying the other justices were “too quick to ignore the common-sense privacy component of a personal vehicle.” The state’s MMJ law “leaves open the possibility that in some circumstances, a private vehicle can constitute a ‘private place’ even though it is located in an area to which the public has access.”
According to Carlton’s lawyer, he closed and locked the doors while smoking and rolled up the windows. There was no one in the vicinity, Shapiro wrote, and Carlton was only seen by guards watching security monitors.
“Under these circumstances, I see no reason why we are better suited to deciding the issue than a jury,” he wrote, saying the trial judge should instruct jurors they have the power to decide whether Carlton toked in a public place.
Unfortunately, Carlton’s case isn’t unique. Marijuana smoking is banned by law in every public place in the United States. Alaska could soon move to allow public cannabis clubs, but no state currently allows any form of public consumption. As a result, many tokers are forced to use covertly in their cars.
The best solution to the problem is the kind of marijuana bar Alaska is considering. This would allow customers – both medical and recreational – to use their cannabis at the stores where they buy it. This could cut down on high driving and discourage stoners from lighting up in other public places.