Smoked out

What communities enacting pot bans should consider

Dec 8, 2010 at 12:00 am

Anyone who still thinks Michigan's medical marijuana law is just some ruse intended to provide partiers with a get-out-of-jail-free card needs to meet Linda Lott. And municipal officials who think they are doing their residents a service by passing ordinances intended to circumvent that voter-approved law need to take notice as well.

In fact, the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is making sure that they get the message that any attempts to infringe on the legitimate rights of patients and caregivers are going to be fought every step of the way.

A resident of Birmingham, Lott has suffered from multiple sclerosis for 28 years. An autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, MS is an affliction that grows worse with time. Now in her 60s, Lott, who is both legally blind and confined to wheelchair, is subject to what she describes as terribly painful spasms that can strike unexpectedly at anytime.

According to the lawsuit, along with prescription drugs, Lott's physician — Dr. Sami Mounayer, the director of neurology at Beaumont Hospital — has also approved her use of medical marijuana, which helps alleviate the spasms and the intense pain they cause. It also helps her to sleep at night.

Her husband of 32 years, Robert, owns a printing business in Livonia. Recently diagnosed with glaucoma, Robert, like his wife, is a registered medical marijuana patient. Pot helps relieve the pressure on his eyes' optic nerves.

In other words, it is hard to imagine a better pair of people to serve as the plaintiffs in what is sure to be viewed as a major test case challenging the expanding pattern of restrictive ordinances being passed by Michigan municipalities.

As ACLU attorney Daniel Korobkin pointed out, "These are exactly the kind of people Michigan voters had in mind when they passed the Medical Marihuana Act."

Last week, the ACLU filed suit on behalf of the Lotts in Wayne County Circuit Court, claiming ordinances passed within the past year by Livonia in Wayne County and Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham in Oakland County are "clearly illegal."

Despite overwhelming approval of the medical marijuana law by Michigan voters in 2008, all three cities passed ordinances declaring, in essence, that it is illegal to engage in any activity or enterprise that is "contrary to any federal, state or local laws."

Because any use of marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of the feds, these ordinances are seen as an attempt to sidestep the will of Michigan voters and put legitimate medical marijuana users and their licensed caregivers at risk of arrest.

When asked previously about the issue, Bloomfield Hills City Attorney William P. Hampton told News Hits that the ordinance in question was not a "medical marijuana ordinance." While it may not make specific reference to medicinal pot, the claim that the ordinance didn't have that as its target is laughable.

Attempts to get comments from others supportive of these ordinances were unsuccessful.

Bloomfield Hills City Manager Jay Cravens told the Free Press: "We don't have a ban on medical marijuana. We have an ordinance that deals with medical marijuana."

Linda Lott, at last week's press conference, expressed fear of being targeted by police for possessing her medicine while traveling in a car or visiting private social clubs she and her husband belong to in Bloomfield Hills.

"I don't believe I should have to choose between living in pain and living in fear," she said.

Robert Lott, as Linda's caregiver, is likely concerned about being targeted for arrest for growing weed in a Livonia warehouse he owns. Critics of the state's medical marijuana law claim it is badly crafted and needs to be clarified. Robert Lott, in essence, has the same gripe about the ordinances. "I don't know what the rules are, and I'm a rule-follower," he said.

It may be that the intent of the ordinances is to clamp down on so-called "compassion clubs," where medical marijuana is dispensed to patients. The legality of these operations is not spelled out in the act approved by voters, creating a legal gray area that has yet to be sorted out by the courts.

However, ACLU lawyers claim, the ordinances based in these three cities — as well as similar ordinances in a growing number of other cities — are so broadly written that they infringe on the clearly defined rights of patients and caregivers.

News Hits agrees. We also think that this is a matter of concern for more than people such as the Lotts. Because of this clearly wrong-headed approach, municipalities in cash-strapped cities are going to be wasting precious resources fighting this issue in court. After all, in all three cities, voters overwhelmingly approved the 2008 ballot measure, so it is not like officials are trying to cater to the desires of their constituents. Just the opposite.

If cities want to take a stand on dispensaries, then let them do so directly. But let Linda and Robert Lott, and tens of thousands of other people like them, grow and take their medicine without having to live in any fear of being arrested.