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MI: Grand Rapids Marijuana Decriminalization Still on Hold

By Thomas H. Clarke January 3, 2013 MI: Grand Rapids Marijuana Decriminalization Still on Hold
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GRAND RAPIDS, MI —  Despite a voter-approved November referendum, marijuana decriminalization in Grand Rapids has not yet been implemented, pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth.

On November 6, Grand Rapids voters approved a proposal to amend the Grand Rapids city charter so people possessing or using marijuana no longer would be subject to a misdemeanor offense, passing by roughly 60 percent approval.

The initiative should make possession of marijuana in the city of Grand Rapids is now on par with a speeding ticket – punishable by a $25 fine for the first offense, with fines increasing modestly up to $100 for subsequent offenses – if the measure ever takes effect.

The amendment to the city charter should have taken effect on December 6, but County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth has sued Grand Rapids over the legality of the amendment in a lawsuit filed in Kent County Circuit Court.

The suit cites a recent court ruling regarding medical marijuana in Wyoming as evidence of a “general rule that a city cannot enact an ordinance that conflicts with state law.” It contends that a city like Grand Rapids does not have the authority to create a civil infraction “for an act (like marijuana possession or use) where a civil infraction is clearly forbidden” by state law.

On December 3, the court issued a temporary restraining order preventing the city from decriminalizing marijuana possession and use until a hearing before Kent Circuit Judge Paul Sullivan, which is scheduled for Jan. 9.

Meanwhile, City Attorney Catherine Mish argues that decriminalization should proceed while the lawsuit plays out.

In a brief submitted to the court, Mish argues that “a preliminary injunction will impede this court’s ability to fully analyze whether the city charter amendment, as implemented, truly impedes the (prosecutor’s) duties or violates state law.”

She also suggests that an injunction “would undermine voter confidence in the processes by which citizens exercise the fundamental democratic right to vote.”

The city charter amendment does not specify any amount of marijuana subject to civil infraction. Mish said Grand Rapids plans a 2.5-ounce threshold because that’s the maximum amount that may be possessed by someone with a medical marijuana card, “so the police officers have one quantity limit to deal with.”

Similar decriminalization measures in Detroit and Flint have been largely ignored by police, who cite state and federal laws prohibiting marijuana possession.

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