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The laws and potential risks students face with marijuana

August 26, 2019
Cannabis buds photographed on March 11, 2019.
Cannabis buds photographed on March 11, 2019. —
Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Michigan legalized, by voter initiative, recreational marijuana in November 2018. Marijuana laws differ between federal, state and local levels. While living in East Lansing, it is helpful to know the specifics of laws among the different governing authorities because there are three different police authorities who enforce each kind.

Federal law on Michigan State University

Shortly after the voter initiative passed, MSU released a statement regarding its marijuana policy. 

The statement reiterates the federal criminalization still in place, due to compliance with the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act Amendment of 1989.

University policy also prohibits distribution and possession on MSU property. 

“Those found in violation of university policies or federal laws prohibiting the use or possession of illegal drugs on campus are subject to legal and disciplinary action,” the statement said. 

MSU also issued a separate statement for medical marijuana, saying that the university would accommodate patients taking medical marijuana by waiving their requirement on campus or to allow terminating a housing contract to move off campus.

Differences between state and local law

The Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana act, or MRTMA, passed one month after the voter initiative was approved. This law set in place both the initial limits for possession and initial penalties for public use, underage use and possessing over the legal limit. 

Michigan State Police said in December that if they smell marijuana when they pull over someone over 21, they won’t perform a car search.

However, if an officer suspects a driver to be driving under the influence, they said it would be prosecuted like a DUI offense. 

This has proven to be difficult since the new law has been passed. Roadside field tests for driving under the influence of marijuana are the best metric officers have before new technology, like a spit-test pilot program expanding statewide in the fall.

Operating a vehicle while using marijuana carries a misdemeanor offense both under state law and local East Lansing law.

The state government is still preparing the regulatory infrastructure for the marijuana industry, as emergency rules were created in early July permitting recreational marijuana smoking lounges, festivals and home delivery.

While the state government has the authority to grant legal uses and regulations for the drug, local governments can determine how much they want to buy in. 

The city of East Lansing already signed up for recreational dispensaries, approving four medical marijuana centers by the end of April 2019.

When recreational business regulations go into effect January 2020, it is assumed that medical marijuana centers will transition to recreational facilities.

When regulating penalties, city officials sought to have fewer misdemeanor crimes than MRTMA, and Ordinance 1457 achieves that. 

Two City Council discussion-only meetings occurred regarding what penalties are appropriate for various conducts not authorized in state law. The disagreement among council members was whether to apply civil infractions across the board or to include misdemeanors. 

The ordinance adopted in the council’s April 23 meeting includes misdemeanor penalties for smoking marijuana within a vehicle upon a public way, and possession or use on school grounds. 

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Misdemeanors could carry a $100 maximum fee, up to 90 days of jail time and 90 days of community service.

All other penalties — like possession of marijuana over the legal amount, by people underage, or consumption in public spaces — are civil infractions that could carry a $25 maximum fine, 30 days of community service and substance abuse screening.  

Additionally, ASMSU provides legal services for students.


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