On November 4, voters in five Michigan cities voted to decriminalize marijuana possession.
These are the most recent cities to do so. But decriminalizing a federally illegal substance is complex. These laws leave a lot up to the interpretation of local law enforcement officials.
Decriminalizing marijuana began back in 1972 in Ann Arbor, and has really picked up steam over the last few years. Here’s an overview of the cities that have decriminalized marijuana in Michigan, when they did so, and what it means for residents and law enforcement.
Ann Arbor, 1972
Starting in 1972, possession of two ounces or less of marijuana would yield a $5 ticket. The law came about in response to the arrest of poet and activist John Sinclair, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling two joints to undercover police officers.
Today, the ticket is $25, and no specific amount of weed is listed in the city charter.
For a more in-depth recounting of Ann Arbor’s history, read this post by Michigan Radio’s Mark Brush.
Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, 2012
Detroit’s proposal M exempts adults 21 years or older from criminal prosecution for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.
Flint’s policy is similar to Detroit’s, but for citizens 19 years or older. Flint police, however, were very vocal about the vote not influencing the way that police officers carried out their jobs.
Grand Rapids voters approved a law that mirrors Ann Arbor’s — possession of marijuana is a civil infraction, similar to receiving a parking ticket.
That vote is being challenged by the Kent County prosecutor’s office in court. The Michigan Court of Appeals will hear arguments on the case on November 14.
The prosecutor’s office says the charter amendment conflicts with state law and prevents prosecutors from doing their job prosecuting criminal offenses, which includes drug cases. The city is defending the amendment.
Lansing, Jackson, Ferndale, 2013
Voters in Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale all passed local laws decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in November of 2013.
Hazel Park, Oak Park, August 2014
Both Hazel Park and Oak Park voted to decriminalize less than one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older who are on private property.
Berkley, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Saginaw, Mount Pleasant, Port Huron, November 2014
In the Metro Detroit communities of Berkley and Huntington Woods, voters lifted local bans on possession of marijuana for individuals 21 years or older on private property.
Pleasant Ridge voted to make marijuana a low priority for city police officers.
And Saginaw voters put a new section in the city’s charter that prevents elected officials from placing further restrictions on marijuana use for people 21 and up who are on private property. According to MLive:
Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel said deputies will stop citing people with minor marijuana violations. However, interim Saginaw police Chief Robert Ruth and Saginaw County Prosecutor John McColgan both said they did not plan on having their respective departments change how they do their jobs.
Mount Pleasant voted that nothing in the city’s charter would punish marijuana possession of less than an ounce, which according to the city’s public information officer, won’t result in much of a change because they already do not target marijuana use.
Port Huron narrowly passed a similar ordinance to Berkley and Huntington Woods.
But what does it mean?
These local laws all conflict with state and federal laws that deem marijuana use illegal. The laws are, however, symbolic of the public’s increasing tolerance of marijuana use and possession.
In an interview with Michigan Radio’s Steve Carmody, Jeff Hank, who headed up Lansing’s pro-marijuana campaign, said, “It sends a message not only to our local politicians, but politicians at the state level that it’s time to do something.”
We ran this list by the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington D.C. and they agreed that it looks complete. If you think we missed a city, let us know!