The city of Grand Rapids has failed to collect more than $100,000 in fines for marijuana use over the past three years.
In 2012, the city voted to decriminalize the drug. This made possession and use of marijuana a civil infraction, akin to being charged with a speeding ticket or traffic violation.
Yet while collection rates for most civil infractions are high, marijuana tickets are often ignored.
Gary Secor is with the Grand Rapids Court. He attributes this disparity to a lack of incentive to pay.
“If you ignore a traffic citation we can report that to the Secretary of State and your license can get suspended until such time as you resolve that,” Secor explained.
Meanwhile, the $25 citations issued to first time marijuana users are often discarded. Secor assigns the blame, in part, to Grand Rapids' transient population.
He says part of the problem is college students ignoring fines when they leave at the end of a semester.
“We’ve got twelve to fifteen colleges in the greater Grand Rapids area and not all of them continually reside in the area,” Secor commented.
The result is a sea of unpaid fines, and the city of Grand Rapids is deciding how to stem the tide.
Secor warns that those that continue to miss payments could face a misdemeanor charge under a state law that makes it illegal to avoid payment on a citation.
“I mean if it were me, that had a civil infraction with the potential of having a misdemeanor on my record, I would want to take care of it as soon as possible,” Secor said. “Maybe that's something people aren't aware of.”
The Grand Rapids court is currently exploring ways to warn people of these potential consequences and subsequently boost the return rate.