Michigan Driver’s License Restoration Cases and Medical Marijuana

One of the quickest ways to lose a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal is to use medical marijuana. This will actually be a very short article because there isn’t much legal analysis beyond the reality that if you do use medical marijuana, your license appeal is very likely to be denied by the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS). In fact, most of the rest of this article is going to essentially answer all the “ but what about” kinds of questions that people have because they have a hard time understanding that there are very limited exceptions to the proposition that you cannot use medical marijuana and win a license restoration or clearance appeal case.

MMMA-LEAF-AND-SYMBOL_full-1-300x291In my role as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I win licenses back for people under the rules established by the state. I don’t make those rules, not do I have the power to change them. I point this out because almost anytime someone brings up medical marijuana in the context of a restoration case, once I explain how that’s a deal-breaker, they want to argue to me how it’s unfair and why that’s wrong. None of that, however, changes the simple fact that, as of this writing, using medical marijuana except for very limited, serious conditions will  prevent you from winning your license back because that’s the way cases are decided by the SOS’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) under the rules as they exist now, and without a specific change in the law, it’s not likely to change any time soon, either.

Here’s the simple truth that’s going to piss a lot of people off, but I’ll do it anyway, given how I’m always going out about how honest I am and that I tell people what they need to hear, rather than just what they want to hear: a person in recovery is supposed to avoid any and all mood and/or mind altering drugs, as well as any drugs that can be potentially habit forming, unless there is no medical alternative, and even then, such use should be under the careful and direct supervision of a doctor who knows all about the person’s addiction problems. Ii is rare to see anything remotely close to that with medical marijuana.

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation: assume Lumbar Linda has inoperable back problems. Linda quit drinking 11 years ago, and has been sober ever since. However, about 6 years ago, she had back surgery that carried considerable risk, and it did not fix her problem. Because of her now-inoperable condition, she takes narcotic pain medication – as needed – because there’s nothing else she can do or take. When she first began treating with her back doctor, Linda was very clear that she was in recovery from a drinking problem and needed to avoid any “risky” medications to the extent possible. When it became clear that there was nothing else she could do besides use very strong painkillers as needed, Linda’s doctor began monitoring her usage. Linda, for her part, is really into her recovery, and suffers through the pain as much as possible so that she doesn’t get addicted to the medication. Linda’s doctor checks MAPS to make sure she’s not getting the medication elsewhere, although he can tell just by her attitude that she is taking care of herself, as well.

Let’s look at another hypothetical situation: in this case, we’ll use Nervous Ned, who suffers from anxiety and has had prescriptions for things like Valium and Xanax for many years. A little over 4 years ago, Ned was arrested for his 2nd DUI and, at that point, realized things were a mess and that his drinking was the common denominator to all the trouble in his life, so he decided to quit. At that time, he also had a prescription for Xanax. He went to counseling, did some AA, and found out that getting clean and sober didn’t just mean “not drinking,” but also not changing one’s consciousness in any way whatsoever by using any drugs, prescription or otherwise. Ned learned that a person recovering from an alcohol problem should NOT take amphetamines, benzodiazepines or any medication that alter one’s mind (meaning give someone a buzz or otherwise get them high), mood, or that is potentially habit forming. Ned went to his doctor, who didn’t know he had been struggling with his drinking, and told him all about his decision to get sober. Both Ned and his doctor came up with a plan to get him off the Xanax and reduce his anxiety in other ways. It worked, and now Ned has been off the Xanax for about 4 years now, as well.

Neither Linda nor Ned would ever use medical marijuana except as a last resort. There is some support building for the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids, but to succeed in any such case would require thorough medical documentation. They both understand that true sobriety requires one to avoid any kind of risky medication. Marijuana is somewhat new as a “medicine,” but has long been known as an intoxicant. Moreover, stories relating to legalizing it for recreational use are often in the news, so when people think “marijuana,” they also, quite naturally, think “buzz” or “high.” Although there may be some forms of medical marijuana that don’t get a patient high, even the names slapped on some dispensaries tend to imply “high” more than anything else. Whatever the state of “no high” cannabis right now, most of the drug’s therapeutic effects were originally discovered by smoking it to get high. And for all of that, it doesn’t really matter to what extent I’m right or wrong, because this is how the state sees medical marijuana, and that’s what’s important in terms of getting your license back, or not.

Sure, there are exceptions, but it will take a lot more than someone insisting that smoking a joint relieves his or her knee pain.  For my part, I’m too busy winning licenses back for people who otherwise do qualify and “get it” about risky medications, to have an interest in anything  but the most exceptional, serious cases. An astute reader may have picked up that I tend to side with the state on this one, at least as far as using any form of marijuana that does get a person high. Yet I would have no problem with someone undergoing chemo, or who finds that marijuana is a viable alternative to opioids or for whom it stops their seizures, from being eligible for a license restoration despite using medical marijuana, but as I noted above, it couldn’t matter less what I think, or even what the reader thinks; it’s how the state interprets things that matters.

In the course of handling over 200-plus license appeal cases per year, I have run across just about every medical marijuana situation you can imagine. One of the questions asked at every hearing is whether you now have, or have ever applied for, a medical marijuana card as either a patient or caregiver. This issue can get complicated, and that’s why it’s best to leave it to a lawyer, like me, who concentrates in this field, but the reader should note that from the very beginning of this article, I have been careful in my wording and addressed how using medical marijuana will usually kill a license appeal. Having, or having once had a medical marijuana card, while problematic, is not, in and of itself, a deal-breaker for a license appeal. I won’t go into any of that here because it’s deep and too technical even for most DUI lawyers, let alone any non-lawyer readers.

There is something of an irony here in that most people who really get the whole sobriety thing will probably overlook this article because they know all about avoiding “risky” medications. Some may read this just out of curiosity, but will undoubtedly shake their heads in agreement about not using any substance that is mind or mood-altering or has any potential to be abused or become habit-forming. Yet some will read this article hoping to find a way to get through a license appeal while still using medical marijuana. It can be done, but it’s rather hard and you  better have a compelling medical situation for which there is no other alternative, and a boatload of documentation verifying all that, as well. And if you’ve really picked up on what we’re examining, then you’d know that even if recreational marijuana was legalized tomorrow, it wouldn’t make a lick of difference.

Even if you have a medical marijuana card, as long you are otherwise eligible to file a license appeal and you’ve honestly quit drinking, if you’re looking to hire a lawyer to win your license back, we should speak anyway. Your situation today doesn’t have to be your situation tomorrow, and I’m certainly glad to assist you with that. All of my consultations are done over the phone, right when you call. You can reach my office Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST) at 586-465-1980. We’re here to help.

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