GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - The City of Grand Rapids argues it has a plan to allow people to possess small amounts of marijuana but still prosecute drug crimes. But supporters of a charter amendment passed last year say the City has switched sides.
In November 2012, 58% of Grand Rapids voters approved a charter amendment that eased the penalties for marijuana possession, making it a civil infraction similar to a parking ticket rather than a crime. Selling marijuana remained illegal.
The Kent County prosecutor challenged the amendment, saying it conflicts with state law and puts police officers in a difficult position. Backers of the amendment have asked a judge to dismiss the case.
But the City attorney is making a different request, instead asking the judge to hear the case and rule on the issues.
"The City executed a 180-degree reverse change in course," said Decriminalize GR Legal Counsel Jack Hoffman.
But City Attorney Catherine Mish said a ruling is necessary to clarify what the amendment means for police and residents.
"We need guidance. I think that a ruling from the court is in everyone's best interest," said Mish. "All the individual citizens who might be found in possession of marijuana deserve to know what the consequences might be."
Under a plan from the City for implementation of the amendment, people found with 2.5 ounces or less of marijuana would be given a ticket. Figures from the Grand Rapids Police Department show possession of 2.5 ounces or less accounted for 83% of marijuana offenses in 2012.
Also under the City's plan, other drug offenses like distribution would still go to the prosecutor.
"The City is trying to stay true to what we believe the charter amendment was all about from the beginning, which was moving only misdemeanors to civil infractions, not moving felony drug dealing to a $25 civil infraction ticket," Mish said.
But Decriminalize GR says voters approved a plan that would prevent police from sending marijuana possession and other low-level cases to the county prosecutor.
"This is a very pro-police request by the city attorney. She is giving the police maximum power, even more so than the prosecutor asked for," said Hoffman.
Supporters of the amendment say if the judge sides with the City, the whole election would be meaningless.
"The people that voted for the amendment are still going to have their civil infractions, she's going to leave that on the books. But it's going to have no meaning because she's going to get the judge to tell the police 'You have a duty to report state criminal law violations to the prosecutor,'" explained Hoffman.
A Kent County judge will hear arguments on April 24. The city is waiting until the judge rules before implementing its new marijuana rules.
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