Traverse City News and Events

Fighting A Felony, And Michigan Marijuana Laws

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 29, 2017

Scientific consensus increasingly recognizes there’s no way to determine the level of impairment in a driver who uses marijuana. So why is a woman who smoked marijuana 10 hours before an accident that killed her mother facing a 15-year felony for impaired driving? As investigative reporter Patrick Sullivan writes in this week's Northern Express - sister publication of The Ticker - a Benzonia lawyer is seeking to overturn the impracticable laws currently in place in Michigan.

Just as state officials set out to establish a measurement for marijuana impairment so that motorists can be held accountable for driving while high, state police have acknowledged — at least internally — that there’s actually no way to gauge the level of impairment due to marijuana. A law passed late last year is supposed to establish a commission to develop a standard, but even before that commission holds its first meeting, it appears their mission might be futile.

Jeff Nye, assistant division commander and quality assurance manager for the MSP Forensic Science Division, asked a colleague to review literature on tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in pot, to help prepare the commission. What came back, according to an email, was discouraging. “To put it in… simple and probably obvious terms…there’s no simple answer for a level of THC that causes impairment,” Nye wrote in the email.

The email was discovered by Benzonia attorney Jesse Williams, who is defending 40-year-old Bear Lake resident Jennifer Lyn Greenwood (pictured). Greenwood is facing a 15-year felony for driving while allegedly THC-impaired - having used marijuana 10 hours beforehand - in a December 2016 crash in Grand Traverse County that killed her mother. Williams is arguing that the state’s marijuana laws are antiquated and arbitrary; he's turned to the state Court of Appeals to get those laws overturned. He says Greenwood has suffered enough over the death of her mother and that the case amounts to prosecutorial overreach because there is no evidence that Greenwood was impaired when she crashed. She was traveling at 35mph in a 55mph zone and lost control on ice, he says.

Greenwood entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to six months in jail in July, but the plea and sentence are being held in abeyance while her case goes before the Court of Appeals. She may withdraw her plea if that court refuses to hear her case. On appeal, Williams is arguing that the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug is improper, and therefore, the state law that makes it illegal to drive with any amount of THC in a person’s system should be struck down.

He also argues that Michigan’s marijuana driving laws violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause because they treat recreational users of marijuana differently than medical marijuana users. For recreational users, all the state has to do is show the presence of the drug in a person’s system in order to convict for impaired driving. For medical marijuana users, the state must prove the driver was impaired. Williams says that leads to unjust prosecutions.

“They’re only prosecuting her because they can, because the way the law is written,” he says.

Read more about Greenwood's case in this week's Northern Express story, "Fighting A Felony — And Michigan Marijuana Laws." The Northern Express is available online, or pick up a free copy at one of nearly 700 spots in 14 counties across northern Michigan.

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