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Blogs | November 25, 2015
3 minute read

Patients, beware: MMMA does not permit smoking in vehicle parked on public lot

In People v. Carlton, No. 321630, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that the immunity and defense provided under the Medical Marihuana Act do not apply to a person who smokes marijuana in a privately owned vehicle parked in a private business’s parking lot open to the public. Defendant, a medical marijuana patient, parked his car in the public parking lot of Soaring Eagle Casino and began smoking marijuana while inside of the car. Upon discovery by casino security, Defendant admitted to police that he was smoking marijuana inside of the car.

Defendant was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana. He argued that the he was immune from prosecution because he was validly registered as a patient under the Medical Marihuana Act and was smoking only within his car, not in a public place. The prosecution responded that Defendant’s car was located in a public parking lot, which is a public space, and that the Act expressly states that a registered patient may not smoke marijuana in a public place. The district court granted Defendant’s motion, determining that a person within a private vehicle located in a public parking lot is not in a public place, which the circuit court affirmed.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that Defendant did not qualify for the immunity or defense under the Act. The Court began by noting that the Act implicitly states, and the underlying public policy supports, that if a person smokes marijuana in a public place, “he would not—as a matter of law—be entitled to assert either the immunity provided under § 4, or the defense provided under § 8.” The Court applied the plain and ordinary definition of “public place,” noting that it typically refers to a location on real property. Further, established law provides that the parking lot of a business open for public use is a public place in the ordinary sense and an individual’s subjective intention on that public place is irrelevant to the location’s public character. Thus, even if a person conceals the smoking of medical marijuana from detection, he will not receive the Act’s immunity and defense if he smoked the marijuana in a public place. While a person’s vehicle is private property, the parking of private vehicles in a public parking lot does not result in the lot losing its public character. Consequently, the Court held that no immunity or defense is available under the Act to “persons who smoke medical marijuana in a parking lot that is open to use by the general public, even when smoking inside a privately owned vehicle, and even if the person’s smoking is not directly detectable by the members of the general public who might be using the same lot.”

Judge Shapiro concurred in part and dissented in part. While he agreed that the district court erred by finding as a matter of law that Defendant was not in a public place, he argued that the question of whether Defendant was in a public place is for a fact finder to decide. Judge Shapiro reasoned that the statute does not foreclose a private vehicle constituting a private place even when parked in a public area.