Council Looking to Revamp City's Recreational Marijuana Ordinance

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019, 8:30 am
Brad Minor

At its March 12 work session, the East Lansing City Council discussed a draft ordinance to modify recreational marijuana laws in East Lansing. This was prompted by discrepancies between the City of East Lansing's codes and State law since Proposal 1 passed in November, changing State law and making possession and consumption of marijuana legal for adults 21 and over.

In 2016, Council voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana on private property. As we reported previously, this did not make marijuana possession legal.

“It is somewhat complicated,” City Attorney Tom Yeadon told ELi back in 2016, “but the ordinance does not make the use or possession of marijuana legal in East Lansing, it simply changed our current ordinance so it would not apply to the possession or use of marijuana to persons over 21 on private property.”

With the passage of Michigan's Proposal 1, it is now legal under State law for an adult to possess marijuana. (It remains federally illegal.) Yeadon has now suggested to Council that East Lansing update its ordinance to conform to State law.

Yeadon told Council that the question is how Council wishes to regulate recreational marijuana. He said the biggest issue was probably smoking marijuana in public. This is because smoking marijuana is a criminal misdemeanor under State law, and if East Lansing has no law in place addressing the behavior, it might be necessary for East Lansing Police officers to charge offenses of this type as a misdemeanor.

Councilmember Aaron Stephens said, “I don't want to see this as a misdemeanor offense, I think at most it should be a civil infraction. I don't believe we should be criminalizing people for something that's legal.”

The conversation turned to East Lansing’s laws on public consumption of alcohol.

Yeadon explained that consumption of alcohol in public is “a civil infraction depending on where you are and what time." He added that drinking on a downtown sidewalk would be a misdemeanor, but everywhere else in the City, one would get a ticket for a civil infraction.

“So if you’re drinking on the sidewalk in front of El Azteco it’s more than a civil infraction?,” asked Council Member Ruth Beier. “Would it just make sense to mirror the alcohol (laws) or change both?"

Beier went on to say, "The point I'm trying to make here is I don't think we should make it less of a penalty to be smoking marijuana in public than drinking in public. And I think not being able to drink in public is a good thing for the City.”

Stephens said he wants public consumption “to be a civil infraction across the board for alcohol and marijuana.”

Council also discussed what public places should be off-limits for smoking marijuana in a new East Lansing ordinance. Mayor Mark Meadows objected to automatically including schools, as the new Michigan law does, because he worries “that we start to pick on low-hanging fruit, which is sophomores in high school who suddenly get arrested, and ruining their possibility for the future when it's not that big a deal.”

On the issue of usage while driving, Meadows told his colleagues and the City Attorney, “You know, I don't think it's a good thing for people to be smoking marijuana and driving a car, but I know plenty of people who have smoked marijuana and driven a car, including myself. So, the idea of that being a misdemeanor even though that's a felony, I do have some issue with.”

Meadows took exception to the proposal in the City Attorney's draft ordinance that would make possessing more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana a crime, even on private property. (For reference, according to Michigan Radio, 2.5 ounces equals roughly 140 joints of 0.5 grams each.)

“I don't know how we fine 2.5 ounces in someone's house at the same time we're allowing them to get drunk as hell in there and maybe give it to friends as well," Meadows said. “I’ve got a problem with all these being more than a civil infraction for us."

“I would just like to see everything analogous to alcohol,” Beier said.

Council members all seemed to agree that it would be generally better to handle smoking marijuana in public with civil laws rather than charging people criminally.

Meadows and other members of the Council ultimately suggested that they wanted the new ordinance to designate all marijuana-related offenses in the ordinance as civil infractions, meaning that unlike State law, smoking in public would result in a civil infraction ticket, like possession of an open container of alcohol.

At the end of the meeting, Meadows directed the City Attorney to revise the drafted ordinance, and stated the Council would set a public hearing on the matter. The ordinance will be introduced and set for a business agenda item at the Council meeting on April 9.

Want to weigh in? You can speak at any City Council meeting during the public comment period near the start, and you can write to Council at © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info