More Than 250 Tickets Written Under New GR Marijuana Decriminalization Law

Posted at 6:21 PM, Jul 25, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-26 15:46:01-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Police Department has been busy writing tickets under the new law that decriminalized marijuana in the city.

However, it doesn’t appear that the numbers of violators are much greater than they were in 2012, although the penalties are much different.

“It’s a $25 first time, (then) $50 and $100,” said Dave Overholt, a supporter of the new decriminalization law.

Overholt has had his medical marijuana card for five years.

However, he supports the new law and he’s been studying the fines and penalties associated with possessing 2.5 ounces or less in Grand Rapids.

The penalty is equivalent to that of a traffic ticket, rather than a criminal misdemeanor.

“It’s helped a lot of other people who live in the city limits that really didn’t have the funding for the card and to pay the state of Michigan,” said Overholt. “So, I think it`’s helped them simply because they`re not at risk to go to jail if they`re caught with 2.5 ounces or less.”

So far, Lt. William Nowicki says between May 1 and July 22, the Grand Rapids Police Department has had 266 cases of possession of marijuana.

Out of those cases, only 22 people were charged as criminals because they had committed more serious crimes at the time of arrest.

The rest, 244, were given the new civil infractions and at least a $25 fine.

“It’s the same for the Grand Rapids Police officers in enforcing the marijuana. It’s just the end result for the suspect, for the person caught with the marijuana, is different,” said Nowicki.

If all 244 people paid the lowest fine of $25, the courts would collect around $6,100.

It may seem like the tickets are raking in the cash, but compared to the fines folks were paying before, it’s low.

They could have collected as much as $70,000 under the old rules.

The number of tickets written hasn’t really increased either.

Police report that in 2012, there were 259 cases reported from May, 1, through July, 22.  That’s compared to 266 during the same time period in 2013.

Those who pushed for the decriminalization say it will eventually produce a savings by lessening the number of cases prosecuted.

Others aren’t so sure.

“It’s going to be a wait and see how approach how it works out with the officers and the budget they have to work with,” Overholt said.

Kent County prosecutors say it will take some time to find out if the new decriminalization law is saving the county money in prosecution of criminal cases.

Police also don’t know yet if it will produce a savings for their department.