GR pot law will stand after court declines case

Posted at 11:34 AM, Dec 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-12 11:34:52-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP/WXMI) — 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.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan's second-largest city, nearly 60 percent of voters in 2012 amended the City Charter, their local constitution, by making marijuana possession a civil infraction with fines ranging from $25 to $100.

In an order released Saturday, the court declined to take an appeal from the Kent County prosecutor.

The prosecutor, Bill Forsyth, had argued that Grand Rapids voters can't trump state law, which says marijuana use is a crime. The Michigan appeals court upheld the law, noting that voters made the change by amending the City Charter — not through an ordinance.

"His appeals are over, his appeals are exhausted and this charter amendment is gonna stand," said Curt Benson, a  professor at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

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

Viviano, joined by Justice Stephen Markman, suggested the Legislature should close the "apparent loophole" and cure conflicts between local constitutions and statewide law.

"The city of Grand Rapids, as a home rule city, is granted constitutional authority to create a plan of government regarding local matters. And its police officers are permitted by state law the discretion to decide whether to make an arrest," he said.

"But the county prosecutor is the proper constitutional officer to decide whether to pursue charges for violations of state law, not the city police or city officials."

Currently, 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.

"The argument for the police they don't get bogged down writing unnecessary tickets going to court in matters that most people consider a very harmless diversion of the recreational use of marijuana," Benson said, adding that he's not surprised Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear Forsyth's case.

"The only way it's going to change is if another city passes a similar law and the supreme court hears that case," Benson said.

"I think what the court is saying is we're going to let other cities do this, there will be other challenges, there will be other lower court decisions and we will have the benefit of all of those different perspectives and then we'll be in the position to make a more knowledgeable decision."

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.

FOX 17s Erica Francis contributed to this report.