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Michigan Senate quashes marijuana transport bill for now

By Alice Yin/Associated Press • Feb 28, 2018 at 4:30 PM

LANSING — State legislators stalled an attempt Tuesday to repeal a statute that regulates carrying marijuana inside cars.

The Michigan Senate voted 19-16 against the House bill. The legislation would have annulled a law classifying vehicle transportation or possession of marijuana as a misdemeanor, unless it's enclosed in a case in the trunk, or in a case not readily accessible from the vehicle's interior if there's no trunk.

Bill supporters said a recent Michigan Court of Appeals case rendered the provision moot. The higher court ruled in 2016 that medical marijuana patients in compliance with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act cannot be prosecuted for violating the conflicting statute on transporting marijuana. Those without a medical card are already prohibited from possessing the substance in any scenario.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Peter Lucido, said as a veteran lawyer, the rejection of the measure Tuesday was a shock.

"It's a no-brainer," the Shelby Township Republican said. "If we don't repeal a statute that's unconstitutional, what in the hell am I doing here?"

The bill passed the House with a near-unanimous vote in October 2017. Among its supporters was the Michigan State Police.

But Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, a Republican from West Olive, said his chamber rebuffed the legislation due to unease over its repeal of requiring the substance to be locked away from the driver's reach.

"It could be openly carried, almost like an open receptacle," he said about the proposed changes. "Our caucus didn't feel like that was quite the right way to go."

The bill's opponents also said that instead of repealing an existing provision, the state should amend it by codifying updated law on driving with marijuana into the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. Skeptics also said that vehicle transportation of alcohol has always been restricted to unopened containers inside trunks, and marijuana should likewise be hidden from easy access.

State Sen. Rick Jones, a Grand Ledge Republican, said he was blindsided by Tuesday's nixing. Jones said under this proposed repeal, Michigan would have maintained its "zero tolerance" for driving under the influence, a hard line that applies to medical marijuana patients as well.

"I had no idea there was a problem and for some reason people didn't want to vote for it," he said. "Maybe because it had the marijuana name attached to it."

The bill could be reconsidered later in the Senate.

Lucido said the bill's intention was to maintain consistency with a higher court that effectively repealed the current law. The senators who struck down the bill did not have complete knowledge of the statute or ruling, he said.

"Had they known that information, I believe that the reconsideration now is a no-brainer," Lucido said.

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