Group wants marijuana possession decriminalized in Grand Rapids

Mar 16, 2012

Grand Rapids voters could decide if people caught with marijuana should only be charged with a civil infraction, instead of a criminal charge. A group of residents begins collecting signatures Friday to put the measure on the November ballot in the city.

The group modeled the proposed changes to Grand Rapids’ city charter after Ann Arbor’s. In that city, people caught with marijuana pay just a $25 fine for the first offense, but get no higher than $100.

The proposed charter change reads in part;

“Violations of this section shall be civil infractions. Persons convicted of violating this section shall be fined $25.00 for the first offense, $50.00 for the second offense, $100.00 for the third or subsequent offense and no incarceration, probation, nor any other punitive or rehabilitative measure shall be imposed. Fines and all other costs shall be waived upon proof that the defendant is recommended by a physician, practitioner or other qualified health professional to use or provide the marijuana or cannabis for medical treatment.”

 “We’re not really taking a stand on marijuana,” said Michael Tuffelmire, director of Decriminalize Grand Rapids (Decriminalize GR). Tuffelmire says the issue is less about marijuana and more about using scare taxpayer money wisely.

“People care about policy whether they use drugs or not use drugs. That’s not the issue. The issue is that people care about where their tax dollars are going, where their resources are going,” Tuffelmire said.  

The proposed changes would not protect marijuana sales or overrule state or federal laws. It would only change how local police officers deal with marijuana possession within city limits.

Tuffelmire says marijuana possession charges harm the lives of many young people who have otherwise promising futures. He says the change would save money by reducing the number of occupied beds at the Kent County Jail. And Grand Rapids Police, he says, could focus on other types of crime.  

Another section of the proposed charter reads;

“The people of the City of Grand Rapids specifically determine that the provisions herein contained concerning marijuana or cannabis are necessary to serve the local purposes of providing just and equitable legal treatment of the citizens of this community, and in particular of the youth of this community present as college students or otherwise; and to provide for the public peace and safety by preserving the respect of such citizens for the law and law enforcement agencies of the City.”

The group needs to collect 6,500 valid signatures to get the proposed change on the November ballot.