East Lansing City Council passed an ordinance decriminalizing marijuana under specific restrictions on Tuesday.
Ordinance No. 1393 amends provisions regarding the use and possession of marijuana, and the language falls in line with the city charter amendment passed in May 2015.
The city now allows the use and possession of marijuana of less than one ounce by persons older than 21 years of age on private property. It also makes a violator in possession of less than one ounce guilty of a civil infraction instead of a misdemeanor. The penalty will instead be a fine of no more than $25, community service and/or substance abuse screening.
Though the city has decriminalized marijuana, it remains illegal under both state and federal laws. Law enforcement can arrest a person under different jurisdiction. East Lansing Police Department will likely not enforce under state law, as reported in a previous State News article.
The ordinance passed on a four-to-one vote, with Councilmember Shanna Draheim opposing.
Draheim said at the meeting that she was opposed because of the confusion for citizens, resulting from multiple laws above the local government.
“I worry about a couple things,” Draheim said. “I worry that we’re setting up our residents for potential legal issues. If we are doing this and creating an environment in which people believe it is legally safe for them to do this, but it may not be. We get emails all the time that say, ‘I didn’t see the parking sign.’ This is much more serious.”
Draheim said she was also concerned with the possible legal action the state could take against the city. City Attorney Tom Yeadon said at the meeting that it would be unlikely the state government pursued legal action against the city, but it is possible.
“I think I’m struggling the most with just voting for an ordinance that we know is a violation of state law. … Being the liberal college town that we’re often labeled as, I worry that it’d make a big splash in a political forum,” Draheim said. “There’s a lot of staff and budget there that they could go far.”
Other councilmembers were less concerned. Mayor Mark Meadows said in the meeting he thinks the ordinance is a step in the right direction.
“This is is the type of action in order to promote change, it is an appropriate action,” Meadows said. “It reflects essentially the will of East Lansing citizens who overwhelmingly supported this language. It goes back to what I think is more rational approach to enforcement of small amounts of marijuana.”
Meadows said the University Student Commission previously wrote in support of the amendment. He also said it would be important to educate residents and students of MSU of the conflicting laws and rules on MSU’s campus. Currently, use and possession of marijuana in any amount is prohibited.
East Lansing resident Jeffrey Hank spoke in support of the ordinance at the meeting. Hank, an attorney who drafted the city charter amendment, said this ordinance goes further by helping people under the age of 21.
“This community is ready for this,” Hank said. “One of the things we had an issue with at the time (of drafting the city charter) is the age. … We didn’t want to saddle those people with a criminal record.”
Other cities in Michigan with similar decriminalization laws include Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids.
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