Law
5:05 pm
Wed January 23, 2013

With restraining order lifted, Grand Rapids can decriminalize marijuana… for now

Grand Rapids will work to put a new charter amendment in place that decriminalizes marijuana, now that a Kent County judge today lifted a temporary restraining order preventing implementation.

City residents voted overwhelmingly for the amendment in November. Under the charter amendment people who get busted with a little pot in Grand Rapids would just pay a fine.

But the Kent County Prosecutor filed a lawsuit because he says the amendment breaks all kinds of state and federal laws. He got a judge to stop the city from implementing it, just a few days before it was set to take effect last month.

Now the judge has lifted that restraining order because the prosecutor couldn’t prove it would cause him any immediate harm.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell says it'll take about a month for the city to put the decriminalization amendment into effect.

“I’m pleased that the judge has let us proceed, that he’s lifted the restraining order. But we still have the merits of the case to determine,” Heartwell added.

In his opinion, Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan says the harm the prosecutor alleges “appears to reflect a general policy disagreement rather than a particularized and concrete harm to the rights and responsibilities of his office”.

He goes on to say that the prosecutor “failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits” of his challenge to one part of the amendment in particular; that prohibits Grand Rapids police officers from reporting marijuana crimes to anyone but the city attorney. The prosecutor argued that, in principle, prevents him from doing his job.

Judge Sullivan says the prosecutor has “no legal right” to direct the city on how to use its resources, including its own police officers. He says there’s nothing stopping the prosecutor from sending in Kent County sheriff’s deputies to enforce state laws. The judge hinted at this opinion during oral arguments earlier this month.

“Plaintiff has no legal entitlement to receive marijuana-related complaints at the expense of the City,” Sullivan wrote.

“We’re very excited,” said Michael Tuffelmire, who’s with DeCriminalizeGR, the group that pushed the amendment.

“I feel a lot of people in the city feel the same as us. We’re gonna save the city a lot of money now and not only that, but we’re going to save a lot of kids’ lives and I think that’s important,” Tuffelmire said.

Mayor Heartwell says it’ll take “about a month or so” before the amendment takes effect.

The lawsuit over whether the amendment is legal is still pending.

Calls to the prosecutor’s office seeking comment for this story were not yet returned.