East Lansing OKs pot smoking, possession of small quantities

EAST LANSING, MICH. -  If you're over the age of 21, you can now smoke marijuana in your front yard in East Lansing without being arrested.

Kind of.

East Lansing passed an ordinance Tuesday night that allows people over the age of 21 to use or possess less than an ounce of marijuana on private property. For those under the age of 21, it's a civil infraction that carries a fine of $25 and community service or a required substance abuse course.

So getting high on private property is fine under the city's ordinances. State law still considers the use or possession of marijuana a misdemeanor, punishable by of up to one year in jail.

“Police always have the option to seek criminal charges under state law,” said Lt. Scott Wriggelsworth of the East Lansing Police Department. “Most of the time they’ll take the civil infraction.”

Wriggelsworth said people using or in possession normally wouldn't be arrested unless that person was a known drug dealer.

It's no longer illegal to possess less than an ounce of marijuana in public either for those 21 and older, but, if you light up, you'll get a ticket, Wriggelsworth said.

In other words, don't count on the city hosting a Hash Bash anytime soon.

The ordinance passed at city council with a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Shanna Draheim voting against the proposal because she had concerns over whether the state Attorney General’s Office would sue the city for going against state law.

“I’m conflicted about how we find ourselves in a legal quagmire,” she said. “I worry we’re setting up residents for potential legal issues.”

City Attorney Thomas Yeadon said that the state could make a declaratory action against the city that would make the ordinance null and void.

Mayor Mark Meadows believes legal action against the city is unlikely, as it would be a bad political move for Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is expected to run for governor in 2018.

“The state isn’t the boss of us,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier. “The point of a home rule city full of liberal people is so we can lead.”

East Lansing is not alone in making this change. Grand Rapids made marijuana possession a civil infraction with a fine of $25 in 2012. Lansing voters approved a measure to decriminalize the use, possession and transfer of less than an ounce of marijuana in 2013.

The city’s ordinance does not affect Michigan State University’s campus, where marijuana possession is still illegal.

“Education is important,” Meadows said. “What may be okay in the city may not be okay on campus."

Lansing State Journal


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