Police in 2nd Most Violent City in U.S. would rather arrest marijuana smokers than focus on violent crime
FLINT, MI — Police in Flint, Michigan plan to ignore a marijuana decriminalization measure passed by nearly 60% of the city’s voters, and continue to arrest people for small amounts of marijuana anyway.
“The ballot proposal approved by Flint voters creating an exemption under city ordinance to allow persons at least nineteen years old to possess less than one ounce of marijuana is symbolic in nature,” police said in a press release Wednesday. “It does not decriminalize possession of marijuana.”
“It is a slap in the face to the citizens of Flint by those who they pay to protect and serve their community,” responds Brian Morrissey of the Coalition for a Safer Flint, who gathered the signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.
“With violent crime in Flint being a main community concern, the police chief’s statement is not only an affront to democracy but a blatant misuse of scarce police resources.”
Like other cities in Michigan, Flint has been hurt by the economic recession and the collapse of the U.S. auto industry, and crime has been soaring in recent years. On October 29, the FBI announced that Flint is now ranked second in violent crime per capita of United States cities with over 50,000 residents, behind Camden, New Jersey.
“Every time an arrest is made for marijuana in Flint, a policemen is taken away from dealing with real violence issues in the city for nearly 4 hours,” said Morrissey.
Although the marijuana decriminalization measure was intended to free up police resources to focus on more serious crimes, the Flint Police, the Michigan State Police, and the Flint Area Narcotics Group say they will continue to make arrests for marijuana possession in the city, citing state and federal laws that marijuana possession is illegal.
“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.”
“If the city police want to follow state law rather than city law, then maybe the state should be paying their salary,” said Morrissey.
Under current city law, marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. Under state law, possessing cannabis is a criminal misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
The decriminalization measure passed by voters was intended to remove all penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for persons 19 years of older on private property.
In contrast, across the state in Ypsilanti, MI, where voters endorsed a measure to make marijuana law enforcement the lowest priority for police officers, Police Chief Amy Walker said her police department will use the voter’s initiative as an opportunity to devote its time to more serious issues.
“The Ypsilanti Police Department takes all crime seriously, and we are under oath to enforce the law. Because of limited resources, we must devote the most effort to the most serious crimes against people and property,” Chief Walker said, adding that the marijuana laws of Michigan are in flux.