LANSING, MI — A long anticipated bill to decriminalize the possession or use of up to one ounce of marijuana state-wide in Michigan has been filed this week with bi-partisan support.
Rep. Jeff Irwin, a Democrat who represents Ann Arbor, where marijuana possession has been decriminalized for decades, introduced House Bill 4623 on Wednesday. Four Democrats and two Republicans joined Irwin as co-sponsors.
House Bill 4623 would make the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a civil infraction punishable by a fine. The fines would be scaled based on prior marijuana possession offenses. First time offenders would be fined $25, second offenses would be subject to a $50 fine, and any subsequent offenses would result in a $100 fine.
The measure has been referred to the House Committee on Judiciary, but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.
Under present law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year incarceration and a maximum fine of $2,000.
“We know, and the people here in Michigan know, that marijuana prohibition is not working,” Rep. Irwin said at the bill’s introduction Wednesday. ”Despite the fact that we’re spending a minimum of $325 million a year on arresting, trying and incarcerating marijuana users in this state, we know marijuana has never been more available. We know that law enforcement has not been successful at keeping marijuana out of the hands of anyone in this state.”
“Alcohol prohibition also didn’t work,” Irwin continued. “When we adopted a more sane, may I say sober policy for alcohol, we were better able to control it and keep it out of the hands of our children.”
“This is the right time to have this debate in Michigan,” added Republican co-sponsor Mike Shirkey. ”We’re using a lot of money, energy and resources in Michigan and across the nation to accomplish something we’ve failed at.”
The bill is also co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Callton, who recently introduced legislation to allow medical marijuana dispensaries as part of the state’s existing medical marijuana program.
Irwin hints that many Michigan lawmakers may privately support reform, but are not yet willing to publicly support legislation.
“There is far more interest than most people realize,” Rep. Irwin said in February, adding that public opinion could easily help change their mind.
At least one key Republican lawmaker has said he would be willing to listen to Irwin’s bill with an open mind.
“I’m willing to discuss it but I don’t want to get too far ahead of the curve,” says the GOP chair of the Senate Appropriations committee Sen. Roger Kahn, adding that although he is not in favor of decriminalization, he could support a bill if it was “done the right way.”
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a long time opponent of Michigan’s medical marijuana program, is expected to lead the opposition against marijuana decriminalization in the state.
We should not go down this road of legalizing drugs,” Schuette told television station WILX earlier this week. “It exposes young kids, children, to ever more potent drugs use, and I think that’s not good for the in the future.”
“It’s just impossible for these law enforcement officials who are in the leadership of these organizations to admit that what they’ve been working on for so many years just hasn’t been working,” counters Rep. Irwin, adding that marijuana prohibition is costly and ineffective. “It’s plain as the nose on my face to any citizen in Michigan that marijuana prohibition isn’t working.”
Several cities in Michigan, including Flint, Detroit and Grand Rapids, have passed local ordinances that decriminalize marijuana possession within their communities, but despite voter approval, these measures have largely been ignored by police, who continue to make arrests under state laws.
Michigan has been a medical marijuana state since 2008, and a recent report showed nearly $10 million in revenue was generated in 2012 for the state by the medical marijuana program.
Seventeen states have adopted some type of marijuana decriminalization law, including Washington and Colorado, where voters recently approved ballot measures to legalize recreational use.
Michigan residents are urged to contact their elected officials and ask them to support House Bill 4623.
Thomas H. Clarke
April 26, 2013