A Michigan appellate court ruled in November that medical marijuana patients may not legally consume the drug in their cars while parked on public property.
The opinion was handed down on a 2-1 vote by the justices of the state’s Court of Appeals. It held against a man who was busted two years ago after police said they caught him smoking cannabis in his car while parked at the Soaring Eagle Casino.
Robert Michael Carlton was arrested in August 2013 after security guards at the casino tipped police they had seen him smoking a joint in his car. They said they watched him over a closed camera security system.
The fact that Carlton was sitting in his car with the windows rolled up and the doors locked did not protect him from the statute that prohibits public consumption, the justices wrote. That’s because the car was parked in a parking lot that was open to the public, they wrote.
Carlton is a legitimate medical marijuana patient
Carlton faces a marijuana charge that police say stemmed from his public consumption violation. He is a registered medical marijuana patient, a fact his lawyers stressed before the court.
The attorneys argued that the charges should be dismissed because Carlton is a legitimate patient and because he was toking in a privately owned car with the windows and doors closed and locked. The car wasn’t open to the public, they argued, so his use shouldn’t be treated as a crime. The court, however, disagreed.
The justices sided with prosecutors, who contended that it didn’t matter whether Carlton was inside a privately owned car. The car was parked in a lot that is open to the public, prosecutors said, and that means he was smoking in public.
Case sent back for trial
Carlton had won before a trial judge, who dismissed the charges, and that decision was upheld by an intermediary appellate court. But the Court of Appeals voted to reverse the dismissal, sending the case back for trial.
“The electors chose to exclude patients who smoke medical marijuana in any public place from the protections of the act,” justices Michael J. Kelly and Christopher M. Murray wrote in the majority opinion.
The parking lot is accessible to anyone visiting the casino, the justices wrote, and the public is allowed to use it. While Carlton’s car is private property, they held, “the person is at the same time located in a public place.”
Justice Douglas Shapiro wrote a dissenting opinion, arguing that his colleagues were “too quick to ignore the common-sense privacy component of a personal vehicle.” Michigan’s medical marijuana statute “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.”
Shapiro noted that security guards were the only people who witnessed Carlton’s toking, and they only saw it over a camera network. No one else was in the vicinity, and no one else could see or smell what he was doing.
“Under these circumstances, I see no reason why we are better suited to deciding the issue than a jury,” Shapiro wrote.