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Smoking or possessing pot in Grand Rapids now 'decriminalized'

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Nearly six months after Grand Rapids voters passed a charter amendment to decriminalize marijuana, the city is implementing the change this week. You can read the ruleshere.

The delay comes in part because the Kent County prosecutor sued the city when it tried to implement the change in December.

The city first tried to implement the voters’ will back in December. But the Kent county prosecutor sued, stopping the city in its tracks. Then City Manager Greg Sundstrom wanted to wait until a judge said how the city could legally implement the change.

“The judge signaled to us that he would not make a decision or would likely not make a decision on our ability to draw a line as I have described it. So if he’s not going to rule on it we might as well implement it,” Sundstrom said.

The judge said he’d issue his opinion within two weeks of the hearing, which took place on April 24th.

Sundstrom has drawn a line at felony charges. Those caught smoking pot, or who have less than two-and-a-half ounces, would get a city ticket. More serious charges like manufacturing, possession with intent to deliver, or maintaining a drug house would still be turned over for potential criminal charges.

Sundstrom plans to ask city commissioners at their meeting Tuesday if it’s okay to go for it by May 1st.

City Attorney Catherine Mish says the city had about 400 people caught using marijuana, another 800 possessing the drug. She said those only using marijuana were not arrested but issued a state law appearance ticket.

People caught possessing marijuana were usually arrested and “typically spent only one night in jail, including sentence and conviction,” Mish said. She says the city will save$15.55 for those possession cases because that’s the processing fee it pays at the jail.

Sundstrom is basing this line on the ballot language, which copied similar language in place in Ann Arbor; except in Grand Rapids, the language left off the word “sale.”

“That’s one compelling reason why one would continue to look at the street level drug transactions, possession with intent to deliver marijuana, as not covered by this charter amendment and therefore the police would continue to report them to the prosecutor,” Mish said.

DeCriminalizeGR, the group behind the ballot initiative, has taken issue with the city's delayed implementation.

“They’re trying to cast something in stone that before it was even taken out for a spin around the block,” DCGR attorney Jack Hoffman said.

“The report is out there that we don’t want this ordinance or this charter amendment that we’re somehow trying to sabotage it. That is just not true,” Sundstrom says flatly.

He says the city has no intention to sue the group over the implementation.

“We’re on the same side,” Sundstrom says of the group, “The city commission has given very clear instruction to me to their city attorney that we are to implement the charter amendment as voted by voters.”

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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