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Grand Rapids voters decriminalize marijuana, Kent County prosecutor sues

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The Michigan Court of Appeals struck down Brian Reed's medical marijuana legal defense today.

Update 9:00p.m. - There's a growing crowd of people who say they'll protest the prosecutor's decision in Grand Rapids on Thursday. The event was posted on facebookthis evening.

The City of Grand Rapids was ready to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana this week. But a Kent County judge issued the city a temporary restraining order Monday afternoon at the request of the Kent County prosecutor to prevent implementation.

In November Grand Rapids voters approved the charter amendment by 58-percent.

Those caught with the drug would face a small civil fine – sort of like a parking ticket.

But marijuana possession is still illegal under state and federal laws. Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth is questioning the legality of the city's amendment in circuit court.

Grand Rapids attorney Catherine Mish says the order means the city cannot officially change its policy toward marijuana possession as it had planned to on Thursday.

“I would urge citizens not to change their behavior just because the charter amendment passed,” Mish said.

Forsyth did not immediately return requests for comment on the case. But in court documents he argues the city’s charter amendment goes against a number of federal and state laws.

“In essence, the Charter Amendment precludes reporting a violation of state law to the Prosecuting Attorney for the County of Kent, who is charged with the enforcement of those laws. MCL 764.15 authorizes peace officers to enforce state laws. A provision of an ordinance that forbids local police to report state law violations to a county prosecutor is invalid as contrary to state law.”

Interestingly, in one instance he cites a case where a medical marijuana patient successfully challenged the City of Wyoming’s outright ban on medical marijuana, which is allowed under state law. At last check Wyoming, a Grand Rapids suburb located within Kent County, is appealing that ruling.

Voters passed similar city charter amendments this November in Detroit and Flint too.

“The City of Ann Arbor has almost identical language in its charter and successfully writes civil infractions everyday and has for the past forty years,” Mish noted, “I think that that’s going to be an important fact to point out to the court at our next hearing.”

A hearing is set for early January.

“I think in the end it’ll be a benefit to the citizens of Grand Rapids to get clear legal directions about what this charter amendment means or doesn’t mean,” Mish said.

Mish said she’s notified the group that organized the charter amendment of the lawsuit and will give them an opportunity to petition to be legal interveners in the case if the group chooses. That group is not ready to discuss the case at this time.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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