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Grand Rapids marijuana decriminalization effort in jeopardy

By Daniel T. Geherin

Grand Rapids marijuana decriminalization effort in jeopardy

In November 2012, voters in Grand Rapids approved an initiative that amended the city charter to decriminalize the possession of a small amount of marijuana. The amendment makes the personal possession of marijuana a civil infraction (as opposed to a misdemeanor crime). Though the amendment itself did not specify a cutoff point for when marijuana possession becomes a crime, the city has said that it plans to use a 2.5 ounce threshold, since that is the same limit used under Michigan's medical marijuana law.

The amendment prohibits Grand Rapids police officers and city attorneys from reporting marijuana possession crimes under the 2.5 ounce threshold to Kent County prosecutors. This provision, though, may be the thing that brings Grand Rapid's decriminalization efforts to its knees - the Kent County prosecutor is challenging the amendment in court, arguing that it wrongly ties the hands of law enforcement.

The Grand Rapids city attorney's office, on the other hand, doesn't see a problem with the amendment. It says the initiative was patterned after Ann Arbor's law. Ann Arbor decriminalized the possession of personal amounts of marijuana approximately 35 years ago, and Grand Rapids City Attorney Catherine Mish says that Ann Arbor has not run into any serious problems or legal challenges.

After the election, the Kent County Attorney sought a preliminary injunction that would prohibit the amendment from taking effect until the legal challenges surrounding it were resolved. In late January, a judge denied that injunction, meaning that the decriminalization law should take effect soon. However, the Kent County Attorney will likely appeal, putting the long-term future of Grand Rapid's decriminalization efforts into question.

Michigan marijuana penalties

Of course, even if the amendment does survive the court challenge, it doesn't mean that marijuana smokers in Grand Rapids - or in any other city with a decriminalization law - will be completely immune from prosecution. Possession of any amount of marijuana is still a crime under Michigan state law, so a criminal charge is often just a factor of who made the arrest and where it occurred.

The penalties for marijuana crimes in Michigan can be serious. Possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor that can result in up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. However, getting caught in a park can bring felony charges and up to two years of incarceration, along with a $2,000 fine. The penalties for sale and cultivation are much more severe - even for small amounts, convicted individuals can face several years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

Even though public opinions surrounding marijuana regulation are changing, the law hasn't necessarily kept up. If you or a loved one has been charged with a marijuana offense, talk to a Michigan criminal defense attorney who can help you protect your future.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, and want the help of local, experienced and dedicated criminal defense attorney in Washtenaw County, please call Dan and his team at GLG Michigan.