There has been a trend recently of different cities and states making marijuana possession legal, or at least not putting people in jail for it. In 2012 Colorado and Washington became the to first overturn their prohibitions by voter initiative. Grand Rapids followed suit, making the possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil infraction. But could the state of Michigan be next?
On October 16, 2013, Michigan Senator Coleman Young proposed a bill that would change the punishment for the possession of 1 ounce or less of marihuana. Right now, a person found to possess marijuana can be charged with a misdemeanor and sentenced to up to one year in jail and required to pay up to a $2,000 fine. But under the new bill, having up to 1 ounce would only be a civil infraction resulting in a fine of up to $100 (for 3rd time offenders or more).
At the same time, on November 5, voters in Ferndale, Jackson, and Lansing will be deciding whether to decriminalize possession in their cities. The Ferndale and Jackson initiatives are similar to the proposed state bill, except they only apply to people who are at least 21 years old. The Lansing initiative goes further, eliminating all penalties for possession of up to 1 ounce.
But even if the initiatives and the state bill pass, possession of marijuana will not truly be legal. Local ordinances decriminalizing marijuana have been treated as directives to local police not to prosecute, but they can do nothing to prevent state police from charging residents. Similarly, even if Michigan modifies its penalty, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) will still have the authority to charge people under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits the possession of any amount of marijuana.
So while the probable consequence of having small amounts of marijuana could be dropping to the equivalent of a speeding ticket, possession can still not be called “legal.” Those charged will still have to pay a fine, and could be subject to federal prosecution. That risk will only change if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reclassifies marijuana and says it need not be a controlled substance.