By Jane Wagner
Entirely East Lansing
This past May, 65.67% of East Lansing voters approved the decriminalization of marijuana. Although many saw this as a win, both law enforcement and caregivers agree that there has been relatively no change in the prohibition of the substance. The separation of local, state and federal statutes has lead to confusion regarding what is and is not allowed in the area
“The decriminalization no longer allows us to cite people under the East Lansing city ordinance,” said Lt. Scott Wriggelsworth. “There are still state and federal laws that can be used to prosecute people found in possession.”
Previously, a first-time possession offender was subject to a $25 fine and no jail time under the city ordinance. The decriminalization eliminated this option. However, state law calls for a $100 fine and/or 90 days in jail plus court costs for first-time use offenders. If found in possession, the first-time offender is subject to a $2,000 fine and/or up to a year in jail plus court costs.
“(The decriminalization) takes an option away from us,” said Wriggelsworth. “Those penalties were the least out of any of them.”
It is important to note that this ordinance only affects non-medicinal users. Under Michigan law, card holders are allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces, and caregivers are allowed to have up to 12 plants in an enclosed, locked facility for each patient they provide for.
Last year, there were only 23 citations written in East Lansing regarding the use or possession of marijuana. Marijuana is not a main priority for East Lansing law enforcement. Officers patrol the streets in search of any illegal activity, but do not specifically look for people getting high.
“Decriminalization made travel and transport much safer,” said caregiver Phil Kendrick. “Before, it was illegal for me to transport my product to sell to dispensaries.”
Kendrick has been growing for five years, and currently services three patients. He also sells his product to several dispensaries around the Lansing area.
“I haven’t seen any differences since the decriminalization was passed. Mainly because I’m dealing with patients and not selling under the table. I hate hearing about people getting caught, but I’m pretty far removed from the recreational scene,” said Kendrick.
What exactly has changed then in East Lansing? The decriminalization at the local level is basically symbolic of the change many residents and lawmakers would like to see at the state and federal level. The community is not likely to reap any benefits from this until marijuana is no longer a Schedule I controlled substance and becomes taxable.
Although Wriggelsworth and Kendrick agree that the decriminalization has had little to no impact on East Lansing, they have very different views on the future of marijuana in Michigan and the United States.
“I hope Michigan doesn’t (follow in Colorado’s footsteps),” said Wriggelsworth. “I’m definitely against it. It’s not going to save the police department any money. We are always patrolling. Legalization won’t mean that we will patrol less hours.”
The decriminalization has actually cost the city revenue. Offenders are now prosecuted by the Ingham County prosecuting attorney, rather than the East Lansing attorney. Additionally, fines go to the state libraries and treasury rather than back to the city.
“Very few hardcore drug users started off their drug use with meth or crack cocaine,” said Wriggelsworth. “I can almost bet 95% of those people started off with marijuana years ago.”
Despite the opposition of some, many hope that the decriminalization in East Lansing as well as other cities around the state will force legislators at the state level to reexamine the current laws.
“My thoughts are that decriminalization allows people to do something more safely that they’re already doing,” said Kendrick. “People have been smoking weed since the beginning of humanity, and now they can do what they’re already doing where they’re safe from persecution from the law enforcement.”