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Lansing mayor considers decriminalizing marijuana

If Mayor Virg Bernero of Lansing had not considered decriminalizing marijuana in the city, last November's elections certainly got him thinking. In that election, four cities in Michigan voted to make marijuana possession subject only to fines instead of penalties such as potential jail time.

The cities that passed the initiatives included Grand Rapids and Flint. They were among the first municipalities to decriminalize cannabis in Michigan since Ann Arbor, which made the move in the early 1970s. While marijuana possession is not completely legal in those cities, police will only fine people a relatively small amount.

Intrigued, Bernero called his colleague in Grand Rapids, Mayor George Heartwell, to confirm that the decriminalization is for real. When Heartwell assured him that the citizens of Grand Rapids had voted to decriminalize, Bernero began wondering if Lansing could follow suit.

"I think it's high time we get rational about marijuana," Bernero said. He said that the Lansing Police Department already treats marijuana as a low priority as part of an "informal policy." The chief of police noted that his department tends to look at drug trafficking through the prism of whether it triggers violent crime. The drugs that tend to lead to violence generally are crack, cocaine and heroin, the chief said.

However, an informal policy still depends on the discretion of individual police officers and prosecutors. To possibly put the policy into the law in the future, Bernero has ordered the city attorney to research how to decriminalize marijuana without clashing with state and federal law.

We will continue to monitor this intriguing development in Lansing.

Source: Lansing City Pulse, "The mayor on pot," Andy Balaskovitz, April 24, 2013

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