Bill coming to legalize medical-pot dispensaries

LANSING (AP) – A Michigan lawmaker plans to quickly introduce a bill to legalize medical-marijuana shops after the state Supreme Court said they’re not allowed under a 2008 law.

Republican Rep. Mike Callton of Nashville says he’s concerned cancer patients and others won’t have access to the drug without dispensaries.

He says many of the state’s 125,000 medical-marijuana users can’t grow their own and there aren’t enough caregivers to grow it for them. Callton says patients will be forced to go underground to find pot.

A similar bill went nowhere last year, but Callton says the issue is more urgent after the Supreme Court decision Friday.

Michigan voters approved marijuana for medical purposes in 2008.

The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday ruled owners of so-called dispensaries “are not entitled to operate a business that facilitates patient-to-patient sales of marijuana.”

The state’s marijuana law makes no mention of pot shops. It says people can possess up to 2.5 ounces of “usable” marijuana and keep up to 12 plants in a locked place. A caregiver also can provide marijuana to as many as five people.

The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Compassionate Apothecary in Mount Pleasant. The shop allowed members to sell marijuana to each other and took as much as a 20 percent cut. The owners claimed they weren’t doing anything illegal because the law allowed for the “delivery” and “transfer” of marijuana.

The state appeals court, however, said the shop was illegal and could be shut down as a public nuisance in 2011. Some dispensaries have remained in business while the case was pending. About 125,000 people in Michigan are registered to use medical marijuana.

Matthew Abel, a Detroit attorney who specializes in medical marijuana law, said it’s time for the Legislature to step in and make dispensaries legal.

“This is the end of the road,” said Abel, whose firm is known as Cannabis Counsel PLC. “It will be a mess until the Legislature clarifies what kinds of business entities are allowed to exist.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, no fan of medical marijuana, hailed the court’s decision and said he would notify the 83 county prosecutors that they are empowered to shut down dispensaries.

“This law is narrowly focused to help the seriously ill, not an open door to unrestricted retail marijuana sales,” Schuette said in a statement. “Dispensaries will have to close their doors.”

The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice Robert Young Jr., who was joined by justices Stephen Markman, Mary Beth Kelly and Brian Zahra. Justice Bridget McCormack, who won election in November, did not take participate in the case.

The lone dissenter, Justice Michael Cavanagh, said the decision conflicts with the purpose of the voter-approved law – to promote “health and welfare” of citizens.