Michigan Court Determines Medical Marijuana Patient Can Be Found Guilty of OWI Offense

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Michigan operating while visibly impaired (OWVI) case involving the defendant’s claim that the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA) prevents him from being charged. However, ultimately, the court disagreed, affirming his conviction.

A Michigan OWVI offense is similar to an operating while intoxicated (OWI) offense, except that it does not require proof of intoxication. Instead, the prosecution can proceed under the theory that a defendant was visibly intoxicated. In an OWVI case, the prosecution does not need to present any proof that the defendant was actually intoxicated, only that they were visibly impaired, and that their impairment was due to either alcohol or drug consumption. Thus, to prove an OWVI case, the prosecution must show that that the drugs or alcohol “weakened or reduced the defendant’s ability to drive such that the defendant drove with less ability than would an ordinary, careful, and prudent driver.”

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant, a medical marijuana cardholder, was arrested and charged with OWVI. The defendant claimed that, under a previous Michigan Supreme Court opinion, he could not be found guilty unless the prosecution proved that he was actually impaired by marijuana. In support of his argument, the defendant cited a case in which the Michigan Supreme Court held that having a small amount of marijuana in a driver’s blood does not subject him to prosecution under the state’s “zero tolerance” statute for driving while under the influence of marijuana. However, in that case, the defendant exhibited no signs of impairment. The trial court rejected the defendant’s argument, and he was convicted. He then filed an appeal.

In the Court of Appeals, the defendant renewed his argument. In its opinion, the court conducted a detailed overview of OWI and OWVI case law as it has been interpreted over the past few decades. While very few of these opinions dealt with the issue at hand, the court ultimately concluded that the AMMA prevents a defendant with a valid medical marijuana license from being prosecuted under the OWVI statute.

The court’s reasoning was interesting, to say the least. The court found that, because medical marijuana was legalized through a citizen’s initiative petition, rather than through the normal law-making process, the term “under the influence” did not have the meaning as it did in the state’s criminal statutes. The court noted that the defendant’s argument would have “substantial merit,” had the legislature passed the AMMA with the same language.

While the nuances of the court’s opinion are quite complex, what it stands for is that a card-holding medical marijuana patient must be cautious when driving. The opinion, however, should not be taken to mean that there are no defenses to an OWVI case for medical marijuana users, as these cases are very fact-dependent.

Have You Been Arrested for a Michigan OWVI Offense?

If you face Michigan OWVI charges, do not give up hope. At Michigan Defense Law, we regularly represent clients charged with serious OWI and OWVI offenses, working with them to develop compelling defenses to even the toughest cases. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call 248-451-2200 today, or you can reach us through our online form.

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