On September 15, 2010, officers from the Grand Rapids Police Department seized 88 marihuana plants from a commercial building unit leased by Ryan Bylsma. The police also found evidence that Bylsma was a registered primary caregiver for two qualifying patients who were approved to use medical marihuana.
Bylsma was charged with manufacturing marihuana, MCL 333.7401(2)(d)(iii). He moved to dismiss the charge under section 4 of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, arguing that, as the registered primary caregiver of two qualifying patients, he was entitled to possess 24 marijuana plants. The 64 other plants seized from his space belonged to other primary caregivers and qualifying patients, he contended. Bylsma argued that the MMMA permits primary caregivers and qualifying patients to share a common grow area for their plants, as long as the plants are grown in a secured area. He also reserved the right to raise a section 8 affirmative defense.
Under section 4(b), a registered primary caregiver is immune from arrest and prosecution for assisting his or her qualified patients with medical marihuana use – but the MMMA limits the caregiver to 12 plants for each patient. Under section 8, a defendant is entitled to dismissal of criminal charges if certain elements are established, including that the patient and the patient’s primary caregiver, if any, are engaged in the acquisition, possession, cultivation, manufacture, use, delivery, transfer, or transportation of marihuana or related paraphernalia to treat or alleviate the patient’s serious or debilitating medical condition or symptoms of the medical condition.
After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied Bylsma’s motion to dismiss. The judge ruled that Bylsma failed to comply with the strict growing requirements of the MMMA, which requires that each set of 12 plants permitted to meet the medical needs of a specific individual be kept in an enclosed, locked facility accessible to only one person. Bylsma’s building unit was secured by a single lock, and several primary caregivers and qualifying patients used it to grow marihuana plants, the court noted. Moreover, Bylsma had access to marihuana plants designated for qualifying patients with whom he had no connection, the court said. The trial court ruled that Bylsma was therefore not entitled to invoke immunity under section 4 of the act, or to assert the section 8 affirmative defense.
The Court of Appeals affirmed in a published opinion, although not for the same reason as the trial court. The majority held that Bylsma possessed all 88 plants found in his leased space, and therefore was not entitled to immunity under section 4(b). The panel rejected Bylsma’s claim that, because the MMMA does not expressly prohibit qualifying patients and registered primary caregivers from using the same enclosed, locked facility to cultivate marihuana plants, the act must be interpreted as permitting collective cultivation. Because Bylsma failed to comply with the requirements of section 4(b), the Court of Appeals held that he was not entitled to assert an affirmative defense under section 8.