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Michigan marijuana arrests rise as use increases nationwide

Oct 19, 2015

Credit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Regular marijuana use is increasing nationwide, and in Michigan, more people are going to jail for it.

Michigan voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 2008. Proposals for the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana have been voted on in 21 Michigan cities since 2011, with 15 communities approving them.

Despite these city ordinances, arrests for marijuana possession or use went up 17% between 2008 and 2014, according to data from the Michigan State Police.

Marijuana use and possession made up 86 percent of all marijuana arrests in 2014. The remaining arrests were for selling, "producing," smuggling and "other," according to the data.

One reason may be that marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, and regular use is on the rise, according to results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration conducts the annual survey of the non-institutionalized population of the United States, ages 12 and older.

Between 2008 and 2013, the number of people age 12 and older who used marijuana 20 or more days in a month increased from 5.5 to 8.1 million, according to the NSDUH.

The effects of marijuana initiatives in individual Michigan cities has varied.

Grand Rapids experienced a drastic decrease in marijuana use or possession arrests, from 952 in 2011 to 93 in 2014, after marijuana was decriminalized in 2012. Lansing saw an increase from 73 to 79 during that same time frame.

Medical marijuana dispensaries and grow facilities have had little impact on the city of Ypsilanti since a ballot initiative passed with an 82% vote to allow them, according to city attorney John Barr.

"With any of these dispensaries or grow facilities, we've had very little difficulties with them to almost like they're off the map; we don't hear about them," Barr said.

He said the city had three options:

"We could do nothing and let these dispensaries go wherever they wanted to, we could try to criminalize marijuana in the city on the basis of the federal law, or we could regulate where people were having dispensaries," Barr said.

The city chose the regulation route.

A campaign by the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee aims to place a Michigan Marijuana Legalization Initiative on the November 8, 2016 state ballot. If it's approved the measure would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adults age 21 and older.

- Paulette Parker, Michigan Radio Newsroom