ACLU Blasts Passage of Grand Rapids Medical Marijuana Ordinance

March 10, 2010

Grand Rapids, Mich. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan denounced the passage of a Grand Rapids city ordinance today for violating the rights guaranteed to patients and their caregivers by the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. Despite amending the ordinance to remove a provision that would have allowed police to search a caregiver's home without notice or a warrant, the ordinance still unlawfully requires caregivers to obtain a business license from the city and to live in designated areas.

"The Grand Rapids ordinance threatens the ability of registered medical marijuana patients with serious diseases to find caregivers to assist them," said Peter Armstrong, President of the Western Michigan ACLU Lawyers Committee. "The people of Michigan voted overwhelmingly in support of compassionate care for patients whose pain can be eased by the medical use of marijuana. However, this ordinance undermines that vote by taking away the rights of patients and caregivers guaranteed by state law."

In 2008, the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act was approved on a statewide ballot. Sixty-three percent of the voters approved the law statewide, including 66 percent in the City of Grand Rapids.

"In a democracy, city councils do not have the power to veto ballot initiatives after they have been approved by the voters and enacted into law," said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. "This ordinance, however, stands in the way of compassionate caregivers helping sick patients -- the very activity the state law is designed to protect."

Under the state law, registered patients have the right to use medical marijuana based upon a doctor's recommendation, and registered caregivers have the right to grow medical marijuana for up to five patients. The law protects the privacy of patients and caregivers by making it a crime for the Michigan Department of Community Health to disclose their names except in very limited circumstances. It also guarantees that patients and caregivers who comply with the state law will not be "penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege."

The Grand Rapids ordinance, however, requires that caregivers:

  • obtain a business license and other permits from the city;
  • disclose their identity and location;
  • live in certain designated areas of the city; and
  • assist patients only during certain hours of the day.

ACLU Western Branch President Tom Logan attended a Grand Rapids City Commission meeting and spoke out against the ordinance during the public comment period.

"In many cases, patients depend on their spouse, best friend, or neighbor to act as their caregiver," said Korobkin. "These compassionate people shouldn't be forced to give up their rights under state law just because they live in Grand Rapids.”