Marijuana decriminalization in Grand Rapids withstands legal challenge

by: Matt Newburg

12/13/2015 08:51 PM EST
Tags:
  criminal law  
  marijuana  
  mma  

The decision of Grand Rapids voters to decriminalize marijuana possession by amending the city charter will remain undisturbed, now that the Michigan Supreme Court has declined to hear a challenge to the law’s constitutionality. 

In 2012, more than half of Grand Rapids voters amended the city charter and made marijuana possession a civil infraction, with fines ranging from $25 to $100. But Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth challenged the amendment, claiming that voters could not trump state law, which provides that marijuana use is a crime. 

Under the amended city charter, police officers do not have to report marijuana possession cases to the prosecutor unless: 1) the matter involves a grow operation, 2) the individual has more than 2.5 ounces of cannabis, or 3) the individual is caught committing another crime.

Earlier this year, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the Grand Rapids law in Kent County Prosecuting Attorney v. City of Grand Rapids. The appeals court ruled the amended portions of the city charter did not directly conflict with the state law that criminalizes actions related to marijuana.

Now that the Michigan Supreme Court has turned down the Kent County prosecutor’s further appeal in the case, the decriminalization law will stay on the books.  The Supreme Court’s decision, however, was not unanimous. Justices David Viviano and Stephen Markman dissented, saying the matter presents an important constitutional question about whether a home rule city, like Grand Rapids, may “encroach” on a prosecutor’s “broad power” to enforce state law. 

“I believe this case presents a conflict between the authority of a local municipality to govern its affairs and a county prosecutor’s broad constitutional discretion as ‘the chief law enforcement officer of the county’ to decide whether to prosecute or what charges to file,” Justice Viviano wrote, joined by Justice Markman.  According to the justices, the prosecutor is the appropriate person to decide whether to pursue charges for violations of state law, and not the city police or city officials.

Both justices also suggested the Michigan Legislature close the “loophole” in MCL 117.4l(3)(a) that does not prevent the enactment of a city charter provision making the possession or use of marijuana a municipal civil infraction.

As it currently stands, the only way the Supreme Court may address the marijuana decriminalization issue is if another Michigan city passes a similar amendment, there is a legal challenge to it, and the justices agree to hear that case.

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