Asked and Answered . . .

Mary Chartier on the SBM Marijuana Law Section

By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

In November voters in Michigan will decide whether to legalize marijuana for adult recreational purposes. If passed, the new law would allow people at least 21 years old to buy up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana a day and grow up to 12 plants in their home. Mary Chartier is a founding partner of Chartier & Nyamfukudza, P.L.C. in East Lansing and chairperson of the Marijuana Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan. She has taught criminal defense, constitutional law, and evidence at law conferences. In Michigan, Chartier has presented extensively, including at the Michigan Judges Association, the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, and the highly regarded Hillman Advocacy Program, which provides federal courtroom training to trial lawyers and is sponsored by the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Thorpe: If we had a time machine and 25 years ago you were told that you would someday head the Marijuana Law Section of the State Bar, would you have laughed?

Yes! I never thought the State Bar would have a Marijuana Law Section, let alone that I would head it up. Other than voting for the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMA), I knew very little about marijuana law. I had defended people accused of marijuana offenses, but I did not know about the history of marijuana prohibition, the medical benefits of marijuana, or the many facets of law that this area would impact.

Lawyers like Matt Abel had worked in this field for years before the MMA, and they bring such a rich history of the fight for legalization. But I really fell into this area when a client had been charged with a marijuana offense, and he handed me a card right after the MMA took effect and said, “Does this do anything?” We ended up running all kinds of hearings under the MMA, and then I became more and more involved in an area of the law and with a subject matter that is so often wildly misunderstood.

I love representing an underdog and people charged with marijuana offenses are often the underdogs, so it’s a great combination for me.

Thorpe: Give us some background on the history of the Section and its incredible growth.

Bernard Jocuns, our founder and first chairperson of the Marijuana Law Section, had the idea to start the Section. He asked me if I would help at the traditional first night party at a Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan conference. I said “absolutely.” I thought it was a great idea and I had some wine that night, so I was all in.

Bernie, Dan Grow, and I worked on establishing the Section, and we were the first officers. We discussed if we would have 100 members — we thought that would be so great to achieve that goal. We discussed if we would get to 150, but then we thought that was crazy. We are now over 800 members, and we keep growing. I think this is in large part due to the fact that marijuana law touches on so many different practice areas.

As a criminal defense litigator, I think about defending my clients, but criminal defense is just one area that our Section covers. Every area is affected — business law, property law, municipal law, and so many more. In fact, those areas are predominant in the Section because of all the legislative changes that are occurring. Marijuana businesses are multi-million dollar, legitimate businesses with all the needs of any other successful business in a growing field. The Marijuana Law Section helps attorneys meet their clients’ needs.

Thorpe: How much has Michigan drawn on the experience of other states to chart a path on marijuana reform? Has the explosive tax revenue growth of places like Colorado made state lawmakers more amenable to similar changes in Michigan?

Lawyers and businesses in Michigan have drawn considerably on the experiences in other states. Those states have proven that marijuana prohibition is destructive and counter-productive.
Sound legalization is better for citizens on all levels.

Thorpe: The legal elephant in the room regarding marijuana law is the huge discrepancy between many of the states and the federal government. Michigan may legalize it, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear he thinks it’s no different from heroin. How the does the Section deal with that divide?

The Section deals with the divide through facts and education, not through falsehoods and rhetoric. We know of the myriad number of medical benefits of marijuana. The federal government knows about them, too. The federal government holds patents in which they discuss at length the medical benefits of marijuana. We know that marijuana use actually helps those who have opioid addictions and can save lives. We know that alcohol and prescription medications have far more negative consequences than marijuana. We don’t say these things in front of a camera to try and mobilize a political base. We say these things because they are true, and we have the research to back them up.

Thorpe: You created and taught the nation’s first marijuana law class at a law school. Is education on the topic a priority of the Section?

Education is definitely a priority of the Section. We hold an annual multi-day conference. This year the conference is October 25-27 at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. The conference —  “The Changing World of Michigan Marijuana Law — CBD, Hemp, & Recreational Use” — is packed with educational and networking opportunities. We have national speakers from Colorado, Oregon, and California. We have a panel on licensing and the MMFLA Board, and we have numerous breakout sessions with topics that range from business to litigation issues.

People can register by going online at the State Bar of Michigan or they can email me at if they have any questions. Everyone is welcome at the conference – it is not just for Section members, although we hope people will consider joining the Section.

Beyond the multi-day conference, we have numerous one-day conferences all around the state from Lansing to Ann Arbor to Mackinac Island and more. And we host webinars so that Section members can listen and learn at their own convenience, and Allen Peisner keeps us updated on new cases that come out by posting to our active listserv.

Thorpe: What do you see in the future for both marijuana law and the Section?

I think the Section will continue to grow. Our incoming Chairperson is Robert Hendricks, who is an outstanding business lawyer, and he has some terrific ideas for the Section. The enactment of the Facilities Licensing Act, as well as the inevitable enactment legalizing recreational marijuana, will mean that marijuana law will continue to touch on numerous areas of the law.

Marijuana law is truly an area of uncharted waters, so it is exciting for attorneys to practice in this area as they forge new horizons. I’m excited to see what’s next for the Section and for Michigan!

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