Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids pot law will stand after court declines case

Associated Press and Koco McAboy -

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP/WOOD) - The Michigan Supreme Court won't intervene in a dispute over a Grand Rapids law that makes possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense similar to a traffic ticket.

Voters approved a measure in 2012 in Grand Rapids that makes possession of less than 2.5 ounces of marijuana a civil infraction, similar to a ticket.

"It means that if you live in the city of Grand Rapids, you can smoke marijuana and maybe suffer a $25 fine, that's about it," said Curt Benson, a Western Michigan University Cooley Law professor.

However, the Kent County prosecutor, William Forsyth, has been trying to get the law overturned.

"His concern was that if we catch somebody with marijuana, that they should report it to the prosecutor because that often leads to additional information about where you got the marijuana, who's dealing in Grand Rapids and sometimes people who smoke marijuana might be involved in other crimes and stuff so his idea was police need to call the prosecutor," said Benson.

Under the law, Grand Rapids police officers don't have to report marijuana cases to the prosecutor unless they involve grow operations; someone has more than 2.5 ounces; or a person is caught committing another crime.

Jack Hoffman, the attorney for "Decriminalize GR," the main group behind the effort to decriminalize marijuana in the city, said that is how it should be.

"Certainly with marijuana, a lot of otherwise innocent people were being victimized. I think the city is the best judge of these kinds of issues," said Hoffman.

The decision divided the Michigan Supreme Court, but ultimately the court declined to take an appeal from the Kent County prosecutor to hear the case. Two justices dissented saying they would have liked to hear the case and one even suggested having lawmakers step in to close a loophole that allows cities to change their charter to do something they could not legally do as an ordinance.

"When they decide not to hear a case, that's not an implicit agreement that they agree with the law, they're just saying they're not gonna hear it," Benson told 24 Hour News 8.

Justice David Viviano wanted to take the case, saying it raises a critical question over a prosecutor's "broad power to enforce state law."

However, the case has reached the end of the road.

"You can ask the court to reconsider, it won't, so no, it's over. This is the end of the line for Prosecutor Forsyth. His appeals are exhausted and this law will remain in effect. The only way it could be changed is if some other city passes an identical law and for some reason, the Michigan Supreme Court decides to hear that appeal and reverses that city's laws, ours would fall by definition," Benson said.

The appeals court upheld the law. It said Grand Rapids voters made the change by amending the City Charter - not through an ordinance. It's a critical distinction under Michigan law.

Prosecutor Forsyth discussed the court's decision on 24 Hour News 8 on Sunday. Watch that interview below. App users can click here to watch.

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