GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – People who have misdemeanor marijuana cases pending in Kent County will see criminal charges dismissed, Prosecutor Chris Becker said on Thursday.
“We are probably going to dismiss the vast majority of them,’’ Becker said.
Becker says he does not know how many defendants will be affected, but noted that about 400 misdemeanor marijuana use and possession cases were prosecuted by his office last year.
His decision follows voter approval of a ballot proposal to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use in Michigan. Proposal 1 was approved Tuesday by a 56-44 percent margin.
“I think the vast majority of cases, use and possession cases, are going to switch into some sort of civil infraction going forward,’’ Becker said.
Use of marijuana and possession of small amounts of marijuana are currently misdemeanor offenses. Punishment can include a fine, probation and jail. The punishment for a civil infraction is usually a fine.
In Kent County, some defendants convicted of a minor marijuana offense spend time in jail, depending on the district court judge.
“That’s just the nature of the beast because judges have discretion of what they’re going to do,‘’ said Grand Rapids attorney Bruce Alan Block, who specializes in medical marijuana cases. “There are some judges that will jail people and some that won’t.’’
Block said he supports getting rid of the current misdemeanor cases involving marijuana.
“I think I would dismiss them and say the public has spoken; they don’t want us going after these kinds of cases anymore,’’ Block said.
Ten days after the results of Tuesday’s election are certified, recreational use of marijuana will become legal, Block said. He said he anticipates that to be sometime in early December.
“I think one of the main things you ought to tell people is it’s not the law yet; it’s not in place yet,’’ Block said. “That will happen in December.’’
Even with approval, there are still restrictions: no public consumption of marijuana and no driving under the influence, for instance. Marijuana use by anyone under the age of 21 will still be illegal and subject to prosecution, Becker said.
“I always say we are not here to make the laws, we are here to enforce them,’’ Becker said. “The people have spoken. We’ll enforce the law as it’s written.’’
Michigan is one of 10 states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana. However, marijuana continues to be an illegal drug under federal law.
The U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Grand Rapids and Detroit issued a joint news release on Thursday saying the Department of Justice “will not unilaterally immunize anyone from prosecution for violating federal laws simply because of the passage of Proposal One.’’
“Our offices have never focused on the prosecution of marijuana users or low-level offenders, unless aggravating factors are present,’’ the statement reads. “That will not change.’’
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