Government and Law

Grand Rapids marijuana law stands

December 14, 2015
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Prosecutor blocks de-criminalization of marijuana and lights protest

A Grand Rapids law that makes possession of small amounts of marijuana an offense similar to a traffic ticket has survived a challenge in the Michigan Supreme Court after the justices declined to take an appeal from a prosecutor.

Justice David Viviano wanted to take the case, saying it raises an "important constitutional question." But the court, in a very brief order, said it wasn't persuaded, which is standard language when an appeal is rejected.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan's second-largest city, nearly 60 percent of voters in 2012 amended the City Charter, their local constitution, by making marijuana possession a civil infraction with fines ranging from $25 to $100.

Police officers don't have to report marijuana cases to the Kent County prosecutor's office unless they involve grow operations; someone has more than 2.5 ounces; or a person is caught committing another crime. Medical marijuana users are not affected.

The prosecutor, Bill Forsyth, had argued that Grand Rapids voters can't trump state law, which says marijuana use is a crime. The Michigan appeals court upheld the law, noting that voters made the change by amending the City Charter - not through an ordinance.

That's a critical distinction under Michigan law.

Viviano, joined by Justice Stephen Markman, suggested the Legislature should close the "apparent loophole" and cure conflicts between local constitutions and statewide law.

"The city of Grand Rapids, as a home rule city, is granted constitutional authority to create a plan of government regarding local matters. And its police officers are permitted by state law the discretion to decide whether to make an arrest," he said. "But the county prosecutor is the proper constitutional officer to decide whether to pursue charges for violations of state law, not the city police or city officials."

Voters in other Michigan cities have allowed marijuana use on private property or made enforcement of anti-pot laws a low priority.

The Supreme Court order was dated Friday but released Saturday.

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