DETROIT — The Michigan appeals court this week is hearing a challenge to a Grand Rapids law that makes possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense similar to a traffic ticket.
The arguments Friday come as more Michigan communities are choosing to take it easy on marijuana. Voters in six cities last week approved proposals to allow use on private property or make enforcement of marijuana laws a low priority. Five more voted no.
In Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second-largest city, “the horror stories about marijuana smoke wafting over playgrounds and downtown being overrun by drug dealers just haven’t happened,” attorney Jack Hoffman said Tuesday.
He represents DeCriminalizeGR, a group that put the question on the ballot in 2012. Nearly 60 percent of Grand Rapids voters amended the City Charter, or constitution, by making marijuana possession a civil infraction with fines ranging from $25 to $100.
Police officers have been told not to report cases to the Kent County prosecutor unless they involve grow operations or a drug house; someone has more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana; or a person is caught with pot during another crime. Medical marijuana users registered with the state are not affected.
The prosecutor, Bill Forsyth, is challenging the law. In court filings, his staff argues that Grand Rapids voters can’t trump state law, which says marijuana use is a crime.
“Reasonable people can disagree with whether the possession or use of marijuana should be criminal. … What reasonable people cannot do, however, is countenance a direct violation of the laws of the state,” wrote Timothy McMorrow, chief of appeals.
Forsyth appealed after Kent County Judge Paul Sullivan last year ruled in favor of Grand Rapids. The judge said voters didn’t actually make marijuana legal but adopted a policy about how their police department should handle it.
The prosecutor “is free to investigate whatever state law violations he believes are occurring in his jurisdiction,” city attorney Catherine Mish said in a court filing. “What he cannot do, in wake of the City Charter amendment, is avail himself of the free flow of city resources in exercising his discretion to prosecute state marijuana laws.”
Attorney General Bill Schuette didn’t file a brief in the case but supports Forsyth’s appeal, spokeswoman Joy Yearout said.
“Families have enough challenges today. They shouldn’t have to worry about more drugs falling into kids’ hands,” she said.
Ann Arbor made marijuana use a civil infraction in the early 1970s, the first in Michigan, but it has not been challenged.
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