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Michigan Makes Huge Strides Toward Marijuana Reform

Voters in three Michigan cities approved ordinances on removing penalties for adults’ possession of small amounts of marijuana in a private residence. While Michigan local initiatives are likely to be ignored by state and local law enforcement, they will still have the symbolic value of putting voters on record as supporting marijuana law reform as three new cities decriminalize marijuana. With this marijuana policy on the ballot, it is ensuring that nothing in the Code of Ordinances shall apply to the use, possession, and transfer of less than one ounce of marijuana, on private property, by a person who has attained 21 years. Outside of medical marijuana use in Michigan, state and federal laws still prohibit the use and possession of any amount of marijuana. Violation of the state law is a one-year misdemeanor. Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, and Ypsilanti all passed measures that reform marijuana regulation last year. City commissioners in Kalamazoo unanimously voted to adopt an ordinance that makes possession a misdemeanor subject to smaller fines and lesser sentences in October 2012.

In Ferndale, a measure that would allow possession or transfer of less than one ounce of marijuana was approved with 69 percent of the vote. Jackson voters approved a similar measure by 61 percent. Though some law enforcement agencies already consider pot a low priority, conflict with state and federal law make it difficult to determine policies. Jackson Police Chief, Matthew Heins stated, “Decriminalization could cause difficulties in the department. It’s a never ending process to try and keep the officers abreast…what is the most recent legislation…what are the most recent court decisions.” Regardless of whether the proposed amendment is approved by the voters, marijuana will remain a controlled substance under state and federal law. No city charter provision shall conflict with or contravene the provisions of any general law of the state.

In Lansing, voters passed a measure by 63 percent; it differs slightly from the other two cities’ by enacting a change to the city charter rather than update an ordinance. Tim Beck, a representative of a statewide marijuana advocacy group states, “These kinds of ordinances create confusion and conflict between local and state laws. Therefore, it raises people’s attention, in hopes it will result in the state legislature passing a bill to decriminalize marijuana like they do in 17 other states. HB 4623 would amend state law and remove all criminal penalties including jail time.

Former Mayor Craig Covey was an active spokesman for the marijuana campaign in Ferndale. The city’s police should follow the example of other communities that have legalized small amounts of marijuana on private property and not pursue state charges when such cases come up. Covey states, “Were not the first city to do this and we’re not the last. The era of marijuana prohibition is coming to an end, even though the state and federal laws are still there. Recreational marijuana is still illegal under state and federal law.