People v Rodney Lee Koon
Medical marijuana card holders can breathe a sigh of relief in Michigan after the state Supreme Court made a bold and brave ruling on May 21, 2013, in the case of People v Rodney Lee Koon. (Click for opinion) Medical marijuana card holders are no longer subject to Michigan's Draconian "any amount" law which proscribes driving with any measurable amount of THC in the body regardless of whether the motorist shows any signs of impairment.
For years, state lawmakers in Michigan and elsewhere have battled with the idea of toking drivers. How does marijuana impact driving abilities? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has studied the issue, and there is no clear answer. Some stoners drive great, while others cause horrific accidents.
Many states have adopted European guidelines, passing laws that proscribed a certain threshold level of active THC. 5ng/mL is typical, but these levels are really, really low. That's five nanograms per milliliter of blood. A nanogram is unimaginably small. Essentially, this is uch a tiny amount that it is the equivalent of Capt. Picard's crew searching for a cloaked Romulan vessel with a tachyon field using 20th century technology. Michigan's state police claim to measure far below this level, but they have equivocated constantly between 1 and 3 nanograms, unable to prove instrument reliability at low levels.
Michigan, as well as some other states, adopted a far more conservative hardline approach. If a driver had any amount of marijuana in the body, the motorist was considered drunk. Initially this was applied in a particular harsh fashion, and it included marijuana metabolites that establish whether a person has used marijuana at some point in the indefinite past. Metabolites can be easily detected in large amounts through a simple urine test. 50 ng/mL is the cutoff for pilots flying commercial passengers planes, for example. This was trimmed back a few years later when a sober motorist struck and killed a highly intoxicated pedestrian who was walking down the middle of darkened highway.
In People v Koon, however, our Michigan Supreme Court was presented with some pretty outrageous legal rulings. Both the trial court as well as the circuit court judges agreed with the defense, holding that the medical marijuana cardholder could not be held to be intoxicated unless the prosecutor could prove intoxication or impairment. Despite language in the statute that held that medical marijuana patients could not operate a vehicle "while under the influence" of marijuana, the Court of Appeals took this to mean that "any amount" was the same as "under the influence." In the drunk driving defense world, this is the difference between ever drinking and driving drunk, but this issue is highly politicized.
Apparently, as soon as the Medical Marijuana Act was passed in Michigan, some potheads opened up shops and started advertising supplies, products, and MMMA cards. At the same time, conservative politicians and judges decided that they did not like the MMMA because marijuana was "the Devil's Weed." (Yes, that is a real quote from a real Michigan judge. No joke.) Clearly, the issue was politicized, but judges could never admit that they were biased.
As a DUI attorney, I recommend that a person refrain from driving for at least several hours, and marijuana users should become familiar with the effects of marijuana. Marijuana smokers, unlike drinkers, do not swerve and weave unless they are really sleepy. They tend to drive great but miss important things, like red lights. This makes it difficult for police officers to detect drivers under the influence of marijuana, but smokers should keep these things in mind to avoid causing a risk to other drivers. No one wants to be responsible for a horrific accident!
Prosecutors, rarely apt to let people off when they might get a conviction, kept appealing this decision until they got a favorable ruling from a favorable panel on the Court of Appeals. Well, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled unanimously that "under the influence" means exactly what we have always known it to be, and now they can choke on it. Cough, cough, cough...