Michigan is the first state in the Midwest to legalize recreational marijuana after voters widely approved Proposal One at the polls in Nov. 6 and Thursday, Dec. 6, was first day the new law took effect.
The new law also affecting pending criminal cases in some counties across West Michigan. Prosecutors in Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties said anyone with a pending case charged for a small amount of marijuana will be dismissed.
“There were several hundred cases that were open in our system. We had to then pull each of those files, each one of those files had to be reviewed by myself or another attorney within the office to make sure they fall within the parameters of proposal one,” said Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting.
The proposal, now state law, allows anyone 21 and up to carry up to 2.5 ounces of pot on their person, have up to 10 ounces in a locked container at home and grow up to 12 plants for personal use. There are still some things people can’t do under the new law.
“It’s illegal for you to sell marijuana. You can’t sell any amount unless you’re licensed by the state to do that. It’s still illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana,” said Getting.
Calhoun County Prosecutor David Gilbert said his office will dismiss as many as 50 cases that fall within the new law. He said they’re working with police on cases where people were driving high.
“If they smell marijuana in the car, it still gives the officer probable cause to search for it,” said Gilbert.
The legal right use marijuana in Michigan has ignited some concerns.
“It is my hope that people will be careful with this, especially persons that aren’t used to having used marijuana in the past, the effects of marijuana,” said Getting.
It’s illegal to sell marijuana without the proper state licensing. It’s also against the law to drive high, which is a potential hazard prosecutors said law enforcement could see on the roads.
“There are studies that show increases in the amount of violent crimes in states that have legalized marijuana. Is that going to going to happen here? I don’t know what’s going to happen here. But it’s something that we’re going to have to be aware,” said Getting.
Though state law says weed is legal, it is still against federal law, which raises the question about an officer’s responsibility if they arrest someone who is carrying pot?
“The police agency has to deal with that issue because under Michigan law, you’re supposed to return it. Under federal law it’s a delivery,” said Gilbert.
“I don’t know that we should be expecting law enforcement to violate federal law by taking, holding and returning marijuana to persons that have been arrested for another offense,” said Getting.
It’s one of many questions prosecutors said they’ll figure out as it happens. Until then, prosecutors said they’re busy dismissing pending cases of some marijuana offenses.
“We want to make sure that we’re doing this responsibly and that each of those cases that we dismissed were doing that in instances where it’s consistent with what the law is today,” said Getting.