Friday, May 10, 2013

Sorting out the confusion over local Marijuana laws, Ann Arbor's experience

Sorting out the confusion over local marijuana laws, Ann Arbor's experience

Credit courtesy of Leni Sinclair
Poet and activist John Sinclair was arrested and jailed for giving marijuana to an undercover police officer. The controversy over his arrest led to decriminalizing marijuana in Ann Arbor in 1972.
It starts this week in Grand Rapids.

As of May 1st, 2013, if you celebrate 4:20, you’re less likely to get jail time.
Instead, you’re subject to a $25 fine for your first offense ($50 for your second, and $100 for three or more).

WKZO reports Grand Rapids police have issued tickets already:
The first tickets were issued Wednesday when the voter-approved ordinance took effect.  The first one went to a 28-year-old man from the northwest side of Grand Rapids, who was cited around 3 a.m. Wednesday.
The marijuana law in Grand Rapids mirrors the one in Ann Arbor. The only difference is “selling marijuana” is not listed as a potential civil infraction in Grand Rapids as it is in Ann Arbor (organizers felt Grand Rapids voters wouldn’t be THAT lax).

Voters in Grand Rapids approved their charter decriminalizing marijuana last November. But because of arguments and lawsuits and confusion over how to enforce the new law, it’s only now going into effect (for more on that legal battle, see Lindsey Smith’s coverage).
And so it goes. Society is changing.

It seems in every election cycle, there are laws passed that seek to loosen restrictions on marijuana use.
Grand Rapids did it. And last November, voters in four other cities in Michigan approved local ordinances aimed at lessening the penalties for possession of marijuana.

But there's a complicated legal landscape around these new laws.

Local laws that “decriminalize” marijuana possession can only go so far.
The ordinances do not affect state and federal drug laws.

Through the lens of the federal government, marijuana is in the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, with no accepted medicinal use, and a high potential for abuse.
Similar to the way it was viewed in the 1930s?

Image from the 1936 film 'Reefer Madness.'

Image from the 1936 film 'Reefer Madness.'
And Michigan law says “a person shall not knowingly or intentionally possess a controlled substance… A person who violates this section as to:”
(d) Marihuana is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both.
In the eyes of the state and the U.S. government, marijuana is still illegal. So it remains to be seen how local police will enforce new local laws that attempt to make marijuana possession equal to something like a parking ticket.

So how will cities in Michigan use these local laws?
Who decides how they are enforced?
And where do police take their direction from?
These are some of the questions that come up.

We'll take a closer look at these laws and how communities in Michigan go about enforcing them in a series of posts.

First, we start with the most experienced city.

Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor has long had one of the most lenient penalties for marijuana possession in the country.
Starting in 1972, possession of two ounces or less would get you a $5 ticket.

Ann Arbor’s law was a reaction to the jailing of Detroit poet and activist John Sinclair. Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison for giving two joints to undercover police in 1967.

In 1971, the John Sinclair Freedom Rally was held at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor.
John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger and 15,000 others called on the state to end his sentence.

Organizers felt that people wouldn't believe them when they announced that John Lennon and Yoko Ono were coming to Ann Arbor, so they asked Lennon and Ono to make this recording:



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