Economic Development, Government, and Law

Kent looks to drop marijuana charges

County prosecutor estimates there could be 400 cases to examine this year.

November 16, 2018
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Kent County is in the process of deciphering which pending marijuana cases to dismiss, but that could take some time.

Christopher Becker, Kent County prosecutor, said he is looking to drop some open marijuana cases that involve use and possession of marijuana, as well as marijuana cases that are related to outstanding warrants, when recreational marijuana officially becomes law, likely on Dec. 6.

However, Becker said he is not operating under that deadline and will thoroughly examine each pending case, which can go as far back as last February.

“We have no idea the number of cases we have pending right now,” he said. “We are trying to pull them right now to take a look at them.”

Becker said there were about 400 marijuana cases last year, and he believes there might be the same amount this year.

As he examines each case, Becker said he will mostly be looking at the ages of the offenders because Proposal 1 states recreational marijuana will be legal for individuals 21 and older to possess less than 2.5 ounces, 10 ounces in a locked container at home and grow up to 12 plants at home.

However, Becker said under the new law, individuals between 17 and 20 years old who violate the law will receive a civil infraction, in which a law enforcement officer will issue a ticket stating the individual has violated a state civil infraction ordinance (local law) for which the penalty does not include a jail sentence.

He said individuals who are caught dealing or selling marijuana will be charged with a felony and will be prosecuted. Also, the new law does not vacate all charges for an individual who is convicted of other charges in addition to marijuana possession charges. Only the marijuana possession charge will be dismissed.

Over 55 percent of voters in Michigan voted to approve Proposal 1 during the Nov. 6 midterm election.

Proposal 1 was started from a petition that was put together by a grassroots campaign, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which worked to ensure the initiative made it on the ballot.

Josh Hovey, the campaign’s spokesperson, said the campaign’s primary goal with legalizing marijuana was to end low-level possession arrests and the waste of law enforcement resources that goes into criminalizing a plant touted for its multitude of medicinal benefits.

“We're thrilled to see that the law is having an almost immediate effect,” he said. “By dropping marijuana charges, these prosecutors are opening up new economic opportunities to these individuals that they could have otherwise been denied because having a marijuana arrest on your record can disqualify individuals from student loans and certain types of jobs.”

While Becker goes through the marijuana records, he emphasized that it will take some time in deciding which open cases to dismiss, mostly, because of the age range that is involved.

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