Decriminalizing Marijuana East Lansing Update

Aaron Martinez

After months of legal rangling in the Ingham County Circuit Court, the City of East Lansing has announced that it will place an initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession for people 21 and over on the upcoming election ballot in May. The proposal was first submitted to the city last July and later generated controversy after the City used the maximum time allowable under state law to authenticate signatures on the proposal and failed to get it placed on the ballot last November. East Lansing attorney Jeffrey Hank took the city to court where Judge James Jamo told the City Clerk to take reasonable steps to get the proposal to voters but didn’t specify a time frame.

This news comes after the State Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder (R) decided they would ask voters to approve a 1% sales tax increase in May to help fix our state’s crumbling roads and infrastructure. By calling for a special election to vote on this, the State provided the City of East Lansing with an opportunity to put the marijuana proposal on the ballot without having to wait until November. Over 2,000 people signed the petition last year to bring this issue to a vote and while many people support the change to the city’s charter, there is a growing voice of others who believe the amendment will be more symbolic than effective.

“I support decriminalization of marijuana as a matter of public policy, but I have serious concerns about attempting to advance this policy via local charter amendment, especially in a university community,” said East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett. “East Lansing charter amendments and ordinances do not govern the campus of Michigan State University. To the extent that not having a local prohibition on marijuana impacts the legal landscape (which is minimally), we would have a separate set of rules on each side of Grand River Avenue.”

In most cities across the state where marijuana has become a ballot box issue, there are many people who share Triplett’s sentiment. Marijuana will remain an illegal Schedule 1 substance under Federal law and Michigan’s state law still considers marijuana possession by anyone other than a licensed patient a misdemeanor, a reality the Mayor hopes doesn’t get lost in translation.

“If nothing else, it’s another signal to the State Legislature and Congress about where public opinion is on this issue,” he said. “My only hope is that too many people don’t get caught in the legal crossfire while the state is catching up with the citizenry. Decriminalizing marijuana is the right thing to do. But this charter amendment is a good example of how the means matter just as much as the desired end.”

The cities of Berkley, Mount Pleasant, Huntington Woods, Port Huron, and Saginaw all voted to decriminalize marijuana possession in November. Nine other Michigan cities, including Lansing, have enacted similar proposals. Needing only a majority vote to pass, the decriminalization proposal will be headed to voters on May 5th.