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Election results show Michigan cities more marijuana friendly

Marijuana plants
Flickr user A7nubis
Marijuana plants.

Voters in several Michigan cities passed proposals to ease legal restrictions on marijuana. On Tuesday people in Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids voted overwhelmingly to make small amounts of marijuana okay to possess under city law. I’m not talking about the medical stuff here; this is just regular old pot.

"Prosecuting someone for peacefully using marijuana is about as ridiculous to me as prosecuting someone for sipping a vodka martini,” Tim Beck, chair of the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, said. Beck also worked to put Michigan’s medical marijuana laws in place.

Beck says the change won’t make a “radical” difference in Detroit.

“I think people can take some comfort that the possibility of them being arrested is now diminished,” Beck said.

But people could still face possible prosecution under state and federal laws prohibiting marijuana. And in Flint at least, City attorney Pete Bade says police will still arrest people.

“It really amounts to no difference. You know it was illegal yesterday and it’ll continue to be illegal today,” Bade said. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for officers to simply turn a blind eye to state and federal law.”

Bade says the vote was a “symbolic” one that does not affect policy decisions. In this case, he says the decision was made by Flint’s state-appointed emergency financial manager, mayor and police chief.

In Grand Rapids the mayor and much of city commission supported the proposal. But City Attorney Catherine Mish cautioned in a written statement that the Grand Rapids Police Department “is currently seeking further direction from the City Attorney about the legal issues surrounding this charter amendment”.

Beck and other organizers say they’re not surprised if there is some pushback from police and politicians on the new local laws.

DecriminalizeGR leader Michael Tuffelmire says changes are likely to be more intangible. “It’ll be so many young adults not being arrested for petty non-violent marijuana offenses who are able to utilize college loans and grants and employment. Over time that help our community when you have so many more people reaching their full economic potential,” Tuffelmire said.

Ann Arbor has had a similar law making marijuana possession a civil infraction with a $25 fine, like a parking ticket, for years. Kalamazoo passed it more recently.

Meanwhile in Ypsilanti, voters passed language that would make marijuana prosecution law enforcement’s lowest priority.

And Kalamazoo passed a proposal to allow dispensaries to distribute medical marijuana. That’s despite state court rulings outlawing dispensaries in Michigan.

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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