Local marijuana laws might be changed at next City Council public hearing
East Lansing residents can have a say in proposed changes to local marijuana laws at a City Council public hearing on Oct. 11.
In 2015, the city charter was amended to allow possession of less than one ounce of marijuana and use for persons older than 21 years of age on private property, but the current ordinance forbids this.
Because of this charter-ordinance contradiction, the East Lansing Police Department does not enforce the current ordinance, East Lansing City Attorney Tom Yeadon said.
The proposed ordinance being heard on Oct. 11 would conform to the city charter, Yeadon said.
“It removes the possibility of charging people under the (current) ordinance,” Yeadon said.
The changes to the city’s marijuana ordinance would make possessing less than one ounce of marijuana or using the drug a civil infraction for people younger than 21 years old, meriting a ticket instead of a misdemeanor, which could possibly lead to criminal charges that result in up to 90 days in jail.
City Manager George Lahanas said the proposed ordinance was first discussed at the Sept. 20 discussion meeting.
“Council did not believe that the minor amount of possession for personal use of marijuana should be something that’s considered criminal behavior,” Lahanas said. “That’s a principle that I think they all believe.”
A decision will likely be made after the public hearing closes, and official action will be taken at a future public meeting, Lahanas said.
ELPD Chief Jeff Murphy said the proposed ordinance won’t affect enforcement drastically.
“That one doesn’t change things very much because, if you think about it, how often is a police officer really going to run into somebody on their private property using marijuana and need to take enforcement on that?” Murphy said. “It should be pretty rare.”
But a change in city law does not mean marijauna users could not be subject to stiffer penalties under state law.
“None of this affects state law, so I’d want our officers to go along with the wishes of the council, but there still would always be the option of making an arrest and charging with a state law misdemeanor,” he said. “The problem (that) could come is that it could just be confusing to people.”
Currently, possession of marijuana under state law is a one-year misdemeanor, Yeadon said.
Murphy and Yeadon both said although the ELPD follows city ordinances, they also can charge people through state laws.
“Even if there’s a policy that the East Lansing Police Department would write it under a civil infraction, there’s still a number of other departments with jurisdiction that would just be able to prosecute whatever they wanted,” Yeadon said.