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New Decision Offers Guidance on What Constitutes “Plant” Under Medical Marihuana

drug crimes attorney in Cass County
In a recent decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals gave greater clarity to the definition of a plant under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. If you or someone you know has been charged with a violation of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, contact the Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC, a leading drug crimes attorney in Cass County.

Under the provision of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA), registered “patients” are permitted to either grow their own marijuana plants or to designate another person as a “caretaker” who is permitted to grow the plants for them. In either circumstance, the person growing the plants is subject to strict limits regarding the number of plants that they can maintain at a time – a patient cannot maintain more than 12 marijuana plants for their personal use and a caregiver is only permitted to maintain 12 plants per patient and cannot assist more than five patients with growing their medical marijuana.

If a patient or caregiver is found to be in possession of too many plants, he or she is in violation of the Act, and is subject to criminal penalties. However, the MMMA does not provide an exact definition of what constitutes a “plant”, and this lack of clarity has led to significant confusion regarding the status of “clones”. A clone is a term used to refer to a smaller cutting from a marijuana plant and that, given the proper care and conditions, can eventually become a viable marijuana plant. The practice of “cloning” a marijuana plant is quite useful for caregivers growing marijuana plants for their patients because it allows them to skip the germination period that is often required when starting a plant and because it allows them to quickly propagate especially desirable or healthy plants.

In People v Ventura, a recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision, the court considered for the first time whether such clones can be considered “plants” under the MMMA. In that case, the defendant was registered under the Act as both a patient and a caregiver for another patient, meaning that he was entitled to possess up to 24 plants. However, when police searched his house, they discovered that in addition to 21 marijuana plants, he possessed 22 clones that had been placed in “grow material”. In its decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals first noted that the MMMA did not explicitly provide a definition of a “plant”. It then sought to determine the ordinary use of the word by reviewing the dictionary definition of “plant,” but found that this definition provided little, if any, clarity.

Because the Court could not find any previous Michigan cases that spoke to this issue, it sought guidance from judicial opinions rendered in other jurisdictions. Ultimately it settled on a relatively simple test that it found in a federal case, United States v. Edge. Edge involved the sentencing of a federal defendant based on the number of marijuana plants he possessed. In Edge, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that a “marijuana cutting” (such as a clone), is a plant for federal sentencing purposes if there is readily observable evidence of root formation. In support of this test, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that such a definition is in sync with the common use of the word “plant” and also found that the test would provide clarity because of how easy it was to apply.

Ultimately these justifications also proved compelling to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which adopted the Edge test. Applying this test to the facts in Ventura, the Court noted that the plants police had seized from the defendant had “hair-like fibers growing off the main root, with those fibers visible to the naked eye”. Because these root structures were “readily observable”, the Court found that the defendant possessed 43 marijuana plants and upheld his conviction.

Understanding the complex interactions between criminal law and the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act is a difficult task that requires specialized knowledge and constant attention to detail. If you or someone you know has been charged with a violation of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, contact the Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC, a leading drug crimes attorney in Cass County at 269.982.1100 or visit http://www.AttorneyPeterJohnson.com.

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