Grand Rapids – If anyone thought the state medical marijuana law provided protection against federal charges, a recent filing in U.S. District Court should dispel any such notion, as far as federal prosecutors are concerned.

The government, in a case where at least one of the four defendants claims to have grown marijuana for medicinal purposes, filed an 18-page motion to prohibit defense attorneys from suggesting marijuana has medicinal value, arguing that defendants believed their conduct to be lawful, or that they acted on advice of legal counsel.

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The government also wants to preclude testimony, evidence or questions that could lead to “jury nullification,” in which jurors acquit based on compassion or compromise.

A federal prosecutor said the typical medical marijuana patient, if following state law, isn’t going to attract the attention of the federal government. Federal prosecutors last year dismissed a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession against a Cadillac man, arrested on tribal lands, who later proved he was a licensed medical marijuana patient.

“We don’t go after people who are just following the medical marijuana law,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Courtade said Tuesday.

While proponents of Michigan’s medical marijuana law think the Obama Administration has gone back on its stance of not prosecuting those legally using medical marijuana, Courtade said nothing has changed: The feds go after the big cases, where amounts exceed what would be legal under state law.

Still, he added: “Certainly (Michigan medical marijuana law) doesn’t apply in federal court.”

Kalamazoo attorney Daniel Grow, who specializes in medical marijuana cases, said defendants ought to be able to present evidence they complied with the state law. He is not representing any of the four defendants, accused of growing marijuana in Kent and Newaygo counties, but reviewed Courtade’s court filing.

“Federalism requires that defendants in federal marijuana prosecutions be allowed to present evidence that they were in compliance with their state’s medical marijuana law,” Grow wrote in an email.

“Furthermore, all of the arguments in the government’s brief turn on the fallacy that marijuana is properly classified as a Schedule 1 substance. In my opinion, a balance of justice and fundamental fairness needs to be recognized in federal medical marijuana trials.

“While it is common sense we should stop the waste of law enforcement and judicial resources that have been spent prosecuting individuals who are following state law, even where there are doubts raised about whether state law was followed, federal authorities should still allow state courts to address whether state law was being followed.”

Grow said that the Obama Administration early on promised to leave legal medical marijuana users alone but "there is a widespread feeling within the medical marijuana community that he has broken his promises and is backpedaling."

Lloyd Thomas Martin, Ronald Andrew Jach, Lonnette Patricia Martin-Strecker and Walter Leon Collins are charged.

Defense attorney Lawrence Phelan, representing Jach, said the case is “a classic situation where the state law conflicts with the federal law. Which avenue is the court going to follow? You’re in federal court, do you follow state law? The general rule is, no.”

His client claims protection from medical marijuana laws. Phelan is still reviewing the Courtade’s “motion in limine” to prevent use of the state medical marijuana law in the federal case.

“They say you can’t – I don’t know.”

He expected to file motions of his own soon.

Attorney Tony Valentine didn’t tip his hand on defenses for Collins, but pointedly noted that his client pleaded not guilty.

“We certainly are subject to many sovereignties: federal, state, court, city, township … whose laws you are obliged to follow.”

He said many are likely troubled by federal prosecution of marijuana laws, especially with Michigan’s medical marijuana law having wide support in a referendum.

“Didn’t Barack Obama indicate he would have some respect for state (medical) marijuana laws? There are a lot of people looking at federal prosecution and asking themselves whether they anticipated this would occur.”

He said federal authorities often take their cue from the state. For instance, Michigan doesn’t have the death penalty, and it is only the rare case that federal prosecutors seek to bring such punishment in the state.

The defendants in this case are accused of conspiracy to manufacture 100 or more marijuana plants.

“The government believes that one or more of the defendants will attempt to claim that they were growing marijuana for medicinal purposes under provisions of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act,” Courtade wrote in his motion.

He said the government believes the “defendants had not fully complied with Michigan law, and to the extent the MMMA had any applicability in a federal prosecution, their failure to comply with the MMMA would have either barred or severely diminished their right to bring an affirmative defense even in the Michigan court system.”

He said marijuana has “no currently accepted medical use and that the MMMA offers no protection from a federal prosecution.”

A defendant’s belief concerning the legality of growing medical marijuana is not a defense, either, Courtade said.

The state Court of Appeals has cautioned residents against relying up on the medical marijuana law for protection from federal prosecution, he said.

In another case, the appellate court said: "Those citizens who proceed without due caution will become test cases and may lose both their property and their liberty."

Courtade wrote: “Ignorance, or even confusion, of the law is no excuse."

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At trial, he said, “a defendant should not be permitted to reference the political debate in Michigan and elsewhere about legalization of marijuana; whether there are medical benefits to marijuana use; whether marijuana should continue to be classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance; whether the federal government should be involved in an area in which local citizens voted to ignore the federal law.”

He said those issues are not relevant to a lawful defense.

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