Recent East Lansing marijuana decriminalization negated by state drug law, causes confusion
Although the proposal to decriminalize marijuana was passed May 5, East Lansing officials said they do not expect much change in how use and possession of marijuana is enforced.
The passage of the proposal decriminalizes the possession and use of up to one ounce of marijuana on private property in East Lansing by an adult 21 or over, but officials said it has caused some confusion among city residents as to what the ordinance will actually change.
East Lansing city prosecutor Thomas Yeadon said the passage of the proposal concerns him, because residents might not understand that marijuana is still illegal in East Lansing, as both state and federal laws still prohibit the drug.
“There’s also concern that people might think it changes the laws that apply to campus,” Yeadon said. “And our ordinances have never applied on campus anyway, so it clearly has no effect on campus either.”
Campus is not affected by local city ordinances because it is an independent agent of the state government.
Yeadon said he is concerned the proposal has, and will, misinform people as to the status of the law regarding marijuana.
East Lansing police Lt. Steve Gonzalez also noted there has been confusion regarding the newly passed ordinance and what it actually means for the city.
“The confusing part for a lot of people is that they have to understand that, despite the fact that the city ordinance is changing, that does not mean that the state law is changing,” he said.
Gonzalez said the East Lansing police officers have been instructed by Michigan’s attorney general to enforce the state law, and residents in East Lansing will still be arrested or issued a citation for the use and possession of marijuana.
“As a sworn police officer, the officers have both the authority, but also the obligation to enforce state law, along with city ordinances within the jurisdiction that they work,” Gonzalez said.
Yeadon said one of the main changes due to this ordinance being passed will be who prosecutes those arrested or issued a citation by the ELPD, since there is no longer a city ordinance against marijuana.
When it was prohibited under the East Lansing ordinance, most of the offenders were prosecuted by the city attorney. But now that it is decriminalized and state law will be used to issue tickets and citations, the offenders will be prosecuted by the county, Ingham County prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said.
“If the officer chose to write the ticket or citation under city ordinance, which they usually do, it would go to the city attorney,” Dunnings III said. “If, for whatever reason, they chose to write it under state law, then it would come to the prosecutor’s office.”