Grand Rapids is in Kent County, Michigan, and the city residents voted in 2012 to decriminalize marijuana possession and use. Although city officials were not in favor of allowing the petition drive, once the people had spoken the city responded.
Grand Rapids adopted the policy of citing citizens who carry up to two and one-half ounces with a civil infraction ticket. That amount mirrors the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act’s possession limit for patients. Citypolice were instructed to follow the charter amendment and issue tickets for pot possession instead of making misdemeanor arrests. The policy began on May 1, 2013, and enjoyed a smooth transition into standard operating procedure.
During the new law’s first 83 days, a total of 244 tickets were issued for possession or use. During the same period in 2012, before the new policy, 259 people were arrested and charged for misdemeanor marijuana possession. The city’s court system reported a reduction of four case PER DAY as a result of the new policy.
It’s a system that works for all parties concerned, and one that was modeled after the example set by Ann Arbor. Voters there modified the city charter in the 1970-s to decriminalize marijuana, and that law is still in place and keeping the city safe to this day.
Enter Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth.
Forsyth and Kent County has sued Grand Rapids to halt the decriminalization policy, claiming that the city can’t vary from state law regarding marijuana. The case was defeated in a lower court but was appealed;arguments were heard in the Court of Appeals in November. A decision is expected in the first half of 2015.
Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan, behind only Detroit in population. As such it is a very urban island amid the conservative waters of greater Kent County and the majority of the state’s Lake Michigan shoreline.
“I don’t think this case is about voters’ rights,” Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Tim McMorrow told the MLive Media Group. Then he said: ”The voters do not have a right to adopt anything they want… something doesn’t become valid because the voters voted for it.” The doublespeak is heavy here- the voters don’t have the right to do something but it’s not about voter’s rights. Clear as mud.
Forsyth’s intent is clear- stop cities under his jurisdiction from creating policies the County doesn’t agree with. In reality, if Grand Rapids were violating the state constitution it would be the Attorney General suing to halt the policy. Ann Arbor’s Washtenaw County has had more than a dozen prosecutors come and go during the era of their decriminalized marijuana policy and none of them felt it was their job to try and sink the city’s policy- or perhaps they all realized that they had no standing or cause to do such a thing.
Ann Arbor isn’t the only example Forsyth can rely upon for guidance in this case. 22 times within the last decade, ballot proposals liberalizing marijuana laws have been passed by voters in Michigan cities (see graphic above). Most of those ordinances were created despite the objections of the Governor and Attorney General; both offices openly admit they have no authority to interfere with elections law.
Apparently Prosecutor Forsyth thinks his authority exceeds that of the Governor. Both sides agree that the issue will not end with the Court of Appeals decision- it will be taken to the state Supreme Court. Since both the County and the City are litigants that derive their resources from tax revenue, the voters will be picking up the tab for Forsyth’s Folly at both ends of the argument and at every step of the way.