At issue is a 2012 Grand Rapids charter amendment that decriminalizes the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults 21 and over. The move changed those violations from a criminal act to a civil infraction, where offenders receive a ticket instead of a misdemeanor charge. Voters passed the measure by nearly 60% after a successful petition drive collected thousands of signatures from city residents.
Attorneys representing the city of Grand Rapids face off against the lawyers representing Kent County. County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth maintains that local communities can’t pass laws that would be contradictory to state law. Grand Rapids attorneys argues that cities do this all the time and the marijuana laws should not be held to a standard different than other aspects of local law enforcement.
Although four states and Washington, D.C. have legalized the use of marijuana by adults, it is still a crime to possess or use the medicinal herb in Michigan. The Medical Marihuana Program (MMP) gives privilege to 120,000 patients; 30,000 Michigan residents are registered to grow marijuana on behalf of those ill individuals.
In fact, Michigan towns have been liberalizing marijuana laws for dozens of years before the concept came to Forsyth’s county. Ann Arbor famously made possession of marijuana a ticketable civil offense decades ago, and the Grand Rapids ordinance language mimics that long-standing and still existing local variation from state law.
In the last decade Michigan communities have voted to liberalize cannabis laws 22 different times. Those variations range in character from: allowing dispensaries; making marijuana medical (prior to the 2008 statewide vote), instructing police that cannabis crimes should be their Lowest Law Enforcement Priority; decriminalizing marijuana; legalizing the possession, use, transfer and transportation of marijuana by adults.
During 2014, marijuana liberalization proposals were offered to voters in 13 cities. Eight of those cities approved the measures.
The Court of Appeals will deliver a decision in the case sometime in 2015.