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Wed November 14, 2012
Marijuana in Michigan: What new pot laws mean for the state
Marijuana users across the state are claiming victory after the success of pro-pot ballot proposals in several Michigan cities.
Supporters say decriminalization of the drug in Flint, Grand Rapids, and Detroit shows that Michiganders are warming to the idea of a pot-friendly future.
But beyond symbolic value, how will these votes affect the way marijuana is managed and policed throughout the state?
Michigan Radio is venturing into the morass of overlapping local, state, and federal law to determine how the state manages weed.
We begin with a look at the new laws and how other Michigan towns have chosen to regulate marijuana.
Arguably the most marijuana-friendly city in the state, Ann Arbor decriminalized the drug in 1972.
Back then, possession of fewer than 2 ounces resulted in a $5 ticket for the civil infraction.
In four decades of decriminalization, the ordinance has not changed much. Today it is $25 for the first infraction, $50 for the second, and $100 every time after.
Mayor John Hieftje has said that decriminalization has allowed police to focus on more serious crime.
“They’re not wasting any time doing that so it has an impact on our bottom line,” he said. “That shouldn’t be overlooked. They’re not worried about that student with a couple joints in their pocket."
He said it has allowed users and non-users alike to relax:
“It kind of helps the vibe a little bit that you know they’re not worried about the fact that somebody might smoke a joint,” Hieftje said. “People just feel more comfortable in Ann Arbor.”
In Grand Rapids, voters approved a law that mirrors the Ann Arbor ordinance, making possession of marijuana a civil infraction similar to a parking ticket.
They adopted the same graduated ticket structure without any age restrictions.
Both the Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids laws contain restrictions meant to prevent drug cases from moving above the local level.
According to the law:
“(d) No Grand Rapids police officer, or his or her agent, shall complain of the possession, control, use, or giving away of marijuana or cannabis to any other authority except the Grand Rapids City Attorney; and the City Attorney shall not refer any said complaint to any other authority for prosecution.”
Detroit’s Proposal M exempts adults 21 years or older from criminal prosecution for possessing less than an ounce on private property.
Flint voters passed a law similar to Detroit’s, exempting adults 19 and older from what was formerly a misdemeanor possession charge punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Flint officials have been the most outspoken in their opposition to the decriminalization effort.
They say that police are bound by state and federal laws, not local ordinances.
"We’re still police officers and we’re still empowered to enforce the laws of the state of Michigan and the United States," said Flint police chief Alvern Lock.
"We’re still going to enforce the laws as we’ve been enforcing them."
In Kalamazoo, voters approved a charter amendment allowing three medical marijuana dispensaries within the city limits.
This follows recent decriminalization by the city commissioners and a ballot proposal last year that defined marijuana possession as a low-priority for police.
Ypsilanti voters passed a similar law this year, making marijuana possession and use “the lowest priority of law enforcement personnel.”
So what does this all mean?
Municipalities may have passed local ordinances, but those ordinances do not affect state and federal drug laws.
It remains to be seen how local police will enforce these laws.
Under current state law, marijuana use and possession are misdemeanors with punishment of up to one year in prison and/or a $2,000 fine
Manufacturing the drug is a felony with punishment of up to 15 years in prison and/or a $10 million fine for a first offense.
And it doesn't get any better under federal law.
Possession of the Schedule 1 narcotic could result in a misdemeanor carrying a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to three years in prison while the sale carries maximum penalty of life in prison and/or a $1,000,000 fine.
The bottom line:
Note the shift in public opinion, but don't break out the Cheetos and Goldfish just yet.
Michigan Radio will be following the implications of these new laws as they develop, and we want to know what questions you have.
Let us know here on our website or on our Facebook page.
- Jordan Wyant, Michigan Radio Newsroom
Politics & Government
Politics & Government