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Three More MI Cities Go Pro-pot

While our state continues to wrestle with how medical marijuana will be enforced, Michigan cities are taking matters into their own hands by decriminalizing marijuana possession. This isn’t full legalization, local government bodies don’t have the power to do that. Rather, penalties within city limits for marijuana possession are reduced and offenders charged under local ordinance don’t face the same level of criminal prosecution as state-level offenders.

Last year, voters in five cities approved measures that lowered penalties for having pot. The mechanism used local ballot measures which won enough support to pass. The five cities, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Flint, Detroit and Ypsilanti, saw similar, pro-pot initiatives. This past election on November 5th, added Lansing, Ferndale, and Jackson.

Interestingly, in an off-year election, the support for these measures didn’t wane. In Michigan, major elections happen every four years, with lesser elections every two. This has to do with how our state legislature and governor are elected. Typically, an odd-year, like 2013, won’t have much available on the ballot at all. In some localities, no election even needs to be held. But this time, at least in these communities, the pro-pot proposals say major support.

The Associated Press reported positive vote percentages ranging from a high of 69% in Ferndale to a low of 61% in Jackson – all substantially higher than the 50% required.

These new ordinances, like the ones passed last year, apply to all marijuana not just that deemed “medical.” State law already allows medical marijuana under certain circumstances, but maintains a harsh penalty ($2,000 and up to a year in jail) for a conviction on possession charges.

This form of “patchwork” decriminalization comes with some confusion however. For example, a person could be prosecuted under one set of laws within city limits, but by traveling a short way away, fall under a completely different standard. It also matters which policing agency makes an arrest. If the State Troopers are involved, they are free to bring state-level charges, even if the arrest happened within a “pot friendly” locality.

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