In our work as Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyers, we deal with all aspects of the license appeal process, some of which can be rather difficult – like medical marijuana. Although many people genuinely use it to relieve pain, in the context of a license appeal, a medical card can also be a real pain in the a$$. While a person absolutely cannot win a license restoration case and use recreational marijuana, there are a few, limited exceptions for those who use it medically. In this article, we’ll do a candid overview of medical marijuana issues in license appeal cases.
There was a time, some years ago, when it was impossible (or nearly so) for a person to win any kind of license appeal if he or she used medical marijuana. This general prohibition was so strong that it wasn’t uncommon for a person to be asked some version of the following question: “Do you have, or have you ever applied for, a medical marijuana card, either as a patient or a caregiver?” Thankfully, this blanket refusal to even acknowledge the medical efficacy of marijuana has given way to a more intelligent and thoughtful allowance by the Michigan Secretary of State for its use in certain circumstances.
While there is no doubt about the many potential benefits and uses of medical marijuana, there can also be little doubt that, especially early on, after Michigan legalized it, a lot of people who got medical marijuana cards didn’t exactly have the most dire medical conditions. Right after the law changed and medical marijuana became legal, there was a notable proliferation of so-called “green clinics,” especially in the Detroit area. The more of these that popped up, the more they advertised on freeway billboards, competing with with each other by offering increasingly lower costs for an appointment and evaluation.
Most people knew these places were basically “mills” that signed off on everyone (or just about everyone) who came in. Essentially, all a person had to do was make an appointment, show up, pay the fee, complain of generalized pain somewhere, or some kind of anxiety or inability to sleep, or relax, or whatever, and he or she would get approved for a medical marijuana card.
To put this another way, you’d be far more likely to run into 100 people who got a medical card at one of the “green clinics” for reasons like those mentioned above before that you ever would some person whose family doctor was the signatory on the application.
Given the ease of getting a medical marijuana card, it was basically understood that people who didn’t actually have a pressing medical need could simply pay the $100 or so for an appointment, and essentially get license to use (or grow) marijuana and insulate themselves from arrest.
This didn’t go unnoticed in the legal system.
At first, medical marijuana cards were looked upon with great suspicion. I distinctly remember one local court posting a notice at the front of the building making clear that it would not allow people on bond or probation to use medical marijuana for any reason.
That has completely changed in the court system, but for reasons we’ll see shortly, not quite so much with the Secretary of State in the context of driver’s license restoration appeals.
Long before the idea of legalizing medical marijuana was ever part of the broader public discussion, the Michigan Secretary of State had already established a long history of being rather strict about granting a license appeal for anyone who used any medication that is mind or mood-altering, or otherwise potentially habit-forming.
This helps explain why the Secretary of State is so conservative and “strict” about granting a license appeal to someone who uses medical marijuana.
A basic, fundamental and underlying component of the traditional notion of sobriety (the one accepted by the Secretary of State) is that a person trying to recover from a troublesome relationship with alcohol or drugs needs to refrain from the use of any and all intoxicating substances, including any that are mind or mood-altering, or that are otherwise potentially habit forming.
“Sober,” in the traditional sense we mean a that a person has chosen to live a life without alcohol and drugs (meaning a sober lifestyle), really means clean and sober, as in completely alcohol and substance-free.
A person can’t quit drinking but start smoking weed, anymore than a person can break a cocaine habit and take up drinking, and call themselves “sober” (and certainly not in ANY sense that the Michigan Secretary of State understands the term).
This is all really old school, “Recovery 101” stuff.
If a person goes to counseling or support groups for help to quit drinking, it is all but impossible to not be told that he or she should completely refrain from the use of any medications that can be additive, give a person a buzz, or otherwise change his or her mood or mental state, even if the dosage prescribed isn’t likely to cause such effects.
This is because of the very real risk of something called “substitution.”
In the past (think 40 or more years ago), before anyone actually thought to really study addiction and recovery in-depth, it wasn’t unheard of for some poor soul to quit drinking, but not feel “right,” and then go to his or her family doctor and complain about being anxious, or nervous, and/or otherwise just “out of sorts.”
Out of concern, many well-meaning physicians would send these patient home with a prescription for something like a tranquilizer (Valium was a famous such drug years ago).
Finding some relief, a lot of people who were trying to stay sober from alcohol would soon be dependent on the prescription medication to keep themselves feeling normal, and no small amount would soon find that they could feel even better by popping an extra pill or two.
Eventually, the general consensus came to be that getting sober is an all-or-nothing proposition: This traditional view holds that if a person is truly clean and sober, then he or she will NOT use any drugs that can alter his or her consciousness (meaning mind), mood, or are otherwise potentially addictive, unless it is absolutely medically necessary.
If he or she does, then they’re very much at risk to substitute one substance for another.
Nowadays, it’s basic recovery stuff to make sure any person recovering from a drinking problem understands that he or she should advise a physician of their past alcohol and/or drug use history so that the doctor doesn’t prescribe any such “risky” medications.
For example, if a person in recovery from anything, be it alcohol, cocaine, or whatever, and has a dental procedure of the sort that would normally result in a prescription for something like Vicodin, or Tylenol #3 with codeine, then he or she should either tell the dentist, or simply not fill the prescription, and take regular Extra-Strength Tylenol, instead.
There are countless actual cases of people in recovery having a relapse specifically because they used things like narcotic pain medications, or certain anti-anxiety medications.
As people who work in the substance abuse field know, even an accidental buzz can draw a person back into their addiction, or a give rise to a new pattern of drinking or using substances.
Think about it this way: if Bad Luck Brenda developed a gambling problem going to the casinos, nobody would tell her to start playing the lottery, instead.
Under the traditional view (the one taken by the Secretary of State) the ONLY recognized way to beat any kind of drinking problem is to get – and stay – completely clean and sober, and that means remaining free of anything that can alter one’s mind or mood.
This, of course, leaves absolutely NO room for anyone looking to win a license appeal to use recreational marijuana.
Our firm get calls all the time from people who don’t really grasp the full meaning of this view of sobriety, and when we try and explain it to them so that they understand why there’s no room for any kind of recreational pot use, they’ll respond with something like, “But it’s legal!”
So is alcohol.
Talk about missing the point…
Recreational marijuana has, more than anything else, really shown how lots of people don’t actually “get it,” and confuse “sobriety” with the mere abstinence from alcohol.
I’ve written a few recent articles about how the use of recreational marijuana stands as an insurmountable obstacle to winning a license appeal, but we still get plenty of calls from people who want to argue with us about it.
Seriously? We’re in business to make money, and there is absolutely no profit in turning away someone who is willing to hire us. Honestly, as Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyers, recreational marijuana has become a HUGE pain in the a$$ for us.
Medical marijuana issues aren’t far behind, either.
It’s important to note that our firm guarantees to win every driver’s license restoration and clearance appeal case we take. Our guarantee provides that if we don’t win a case, we’re obligated to do the whole thing all over again, before the Secretary of State, the following year – without any further legal fees.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that our firm counts on earning its money by winning these cases the first time around, and that it would seriously cut into our bottom line if we wind up having to do more than the occasional case all over again as “warranty work.”
Thus, when we decline to take a case, it’s because we know it can’t be made into a winner, not because we don’t want the business.
That said, we will carefully evaluate every potential case that comes our way. We have won plenty of license appeals for clients who use medical marijuana, but all of them have used it for serious conditions.
In such cases, these clients have either had the prescription provided by the physician who treats them for their underlying condition, or that physician at least knows about – and agrees with – their use of medical marijuana.
Nobody is going to win a license appeal with a medical marijuana card obtained from any “green clinic” based upon a single visit for a condition that is not being treated by a different, overseeing doctor without explicit acknowledgement from that doctor that he or she knows the patient uses medical marijuana, is monitoring that use, and finds it to be both medically necessary and a suitable alternative to any other potential treatment.
And for as deep as all this can get – and make no mistake, the issue of medical marijuana in the context of a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal can get deep – what we’ve discussed above helps us frame a good idea of whether a person who uses medical marijuana has a chance to win a license appeal case and who doesn’t:
To be clear, a person can win a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal case and use medical marijuana, but he or she must do so for a serious medical condition, under the supervision of his or her treating physician, and when there is no suitable medical alternative.
A person cannot win a license appeal and use medical marijuana if all he or she did was meet with some “green clinic” doctor once, describe his or her complaint (only to never see that doctor again) and then fail to tell his or her treating physician about both his or her recovery from past alcohol abuse and his or her current use of medicinal marijuana.
There’s one last thing that merits our consideration, as it certainly will get the Secretary of State’s attention: Although a lot of people don’t really think of marijuana as a “drug,” medical marijuana is potentially mind-altering.
This is a real concern to the Secretary of State, because it is not only worried about a person being tempted into a repeat episode of driving while intoxicated, but also that, as we noted before, even an accidental buzz can cause a person to relapse.
No matter what, the effects of marijuana are pleasurable; that’s why people use it recreationally.
Thus, the state is not just concerned that someone who has quit drinking can “slip” in some way by using marijuana, but also that such a person could get behind the wheel while his or her judgment is not impaired, particularly because everyone who has lost their license for multiple DUI’s has done just that in the past.
When someone who uses medical marijuana contacts us about a driver’s license restoration case, my team and I will always do an honest and thorough screening.
No lawyer can do more, and we will never do less.
If you’re looking for a lawyer to help win back your Michigan driver’s license, or to clear a Secretary of State hold on your driving record so that you can get a license in another state, be a wise consumer and read around. Read how other lawyers explain the license appeal process, and how they explain their various approaches to it.
When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. You can learn a lot by talking to a live person.
All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions, explain things, and even compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you (including anything about medical marijuana in the context of a license appeal case).
We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.