GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM)- It appears the decriminalization of marijuana will happen in Grand Rapids.
With almost all precincts reporting, nearly 60 percent of voters approved making possessing marijuana a civil infraction instead of a misdemeanor.
The ballot initiative was spearheaded by a group called "DecriminalizeGR", which collected more than 10,000 signatures to put a charter amendment on the city's November ballot. More than 200 supporters of Grand Rapids Proposal 2 gathered Tuesday night in Eastown to see the results.
Supporters of the proposal argue that decriminalizing marijuana will save Grand Rapids taxpayers an estimated $2.5 million in city and jail costs. They also claim the proposal will prevent young people from compiling a criminal record, and shrinking police forces will be able to focus their attention on more important matters.
"For DecriminalizeGR, obviously a yes vote is a good thing," said Michael Tuffelmire, Director of DecriminalizeGR. "It means so much more for our city, especially when you consider the tax money we'll save and the future we will have with a pro-active drug policy that works and will save children's lives, and will lead to better neighborhoods; better education and better employment."
May law enforcement officials and a few Grand Rapids City Commissioners oppose the proposal, arguing it encourages substance abuse and that it will be difficult to police because it doesn't include age restrictions or limits on the amount of marijuana that can be possessed without criminal penalty.
"In this type of issue, If I'm going to side with one side , am I going to side with my colleague the Mayor, or the Chief of Police and Sheriff and our prosecutor?" asked Grand Rapids First Ward Commissioner, Walt Gutowski, who opposes the decriminalization of marijuana. "I'm definitely going to side with those who are well steeped in our law enforcement."
Under the proposal possession of marijuana in the city of Grand Rapids is on the level of a speeding ticket - punishable with only a $25 fine for the first offense. The fines would increase modestly up to $100 for subsequent offenses.