Decriminalize pot debate at commission

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The conflict over a charter amendment that decriminalized marijuana in Grand Rapids continued Tuesday.

Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth announced Monday he had filed a legal challenge against Grand Rapids' decriminalization of marijuana, which was approved by voters in November, because it is in conflict with state law.
Residents weighed in at the Tuesday Grand Rapids City Commission meeting. Their reaction was passionate. Most said they spoke loud and clear with their vote last month to decriminalize marijuana, and now they feel the democratic process is being challenged by the prosecutor.

"Don't fight for Decriminalize GR," said resident Azizi Jasper, referencing the proponent group that got the amendment on the ballot. "Fight for the democratic right of the voters of this city to be able to choose what it is that we want."

Residents urged city officials to fight for the decriminalization ordinance, which passed with about 59% of the vote on Nov. 6.

The ordinance would make possession of marijuana in the city a civil infraction instead of a crime, meaning that those caught with marijuana would face a fine rather than jail or prison time.

The ordinance was supposed to go into effect Thursday but is on hold after a judge issued a temporary restraining order.

In the challenge, Forsyth argued the ordinance is in conflict with state law. He also says it puts police in a difficult position by prohibiting them from reporting what is still a crime in the State of Michigan to his office.

"I fully expect the City of Grand Rapids to fight this in court," said resident Sam Jones-Darling at the commission meeting. "Hold up to what the voters said because we can not have any more young people out there getting charged and getting criminal records for holding on to marijuana."

Charmie Gholson, of Michigan Moms United to End the War on Drugs, pointed out statistics to the commission that she claims show a misuse of police resources on fighting drugs instead of more violent crimes.

"Making sure they understand that our drug policies really skew police priorities and and decrease public safety," said Gholson.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell publicly supported the ordinance. He said the people have spoken and he's ready to defend it in court.

"I believe that the court will recognize that and honor that when they hear this case," Heartwell said at the meeting.

According to a Facebook page, a peaceful protest is being organized in front of the Kent County Prosecutor's Office for Thursday at noon. So far, 500 people have indicated they will attend.

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Michigan is governed as a republic, with three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. The state also allows direct participation of the electorate by initiative, referendum, recall, and ratification.
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