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Michigan court: All marijuana users are impaired behind the wheel

Since the voters approved the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act of 2008, arguments have continued to rage in the state. Substandard and vague language in the law has only fueled the debate. In the most recent significant appeal to the law, a criminal case has been restored against a medical marijuana user.

As recently as last week, courts could dismiss charges of driving after using marijuana if the driver is one of the 130,000 Michigan residents who have a state-issued marijuana card. Many courts did, in fact, dismiss charges on the grounds that impairment could not be proven.

However, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled this week that any driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol can face charges. Specifically, the court was responding to the case of a man who was initially pulled over for speeding. He admitted that he had smoked marijuana six hours before the stop. He was prescribed the drug to alleviate the symptoms he suffered as a result of a closed head injury. Reports suggest that the officers who pulled him over made no mention of any impairment.

Two courts originally dismissed charges of impaired driving. In the ruling this week, however, the charge was reinstated on the grounds that the marijuana law does not allow all types of use in all circumstances.

Many people suggest that there is insufficient information regarding the level at which a person is considered impaired by marijuana. Unlike alcohol, the drug may stay in the body long after the effects have worn off. But Michigan law is such that if any driver has any trace of the chemical in their system, they are considered to be impaired. It is likely that the courts will need to address and identify a level of impairment when it comes to marijuana, but that has yet to happen.

While the law itself continues to be argued, challenged and interpreted situations like this will continue come up and affect many people. What was legal yesterday may not be legal today. In many situations, legal representation is necessary to challenge marijuana and other drug-related crimes.

Source: Businessweek, "Medical marijuana law no defense for Mich. drivers," Ed White, April 19,2012

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