Recreational Marijuana Law in East Lansing to Change
Following unanimous approval by City Council, East Lansing has a new law specifying prohibited practices for recreational marijuana use and possession.
According to City Attorney Tom Yeadon, Ordinance 1457 was necessary to prevent “abuses in prosecution” since the recently passed amendment to Michigan’s Constitution allowing for the use of marijuana recreationally specifically omitted legalization of some marijuana uses, but did not outline specific penalties for those uses.
This left a legal gray area where prosecutors could argue for the higher penalties available under State law. One example Yeadon cited was “public consumption” of marijuana which, as with alcohol, is illegal outside of specifically-designated public areas.
There are different penalties under Ordinance 1457 for Civil infractions versus Criminal Misdemeanors.
The following violations would be considered Civil Infractions and could be punished with a $25 fine plus court costs, community service, and substance abuse screening or attendance of a court-mandated substance abuse program:
- Possession or consumption of marijuana by someone under 21 years of age.
- Transfer of marijuana or marijuana accessories to someone who is under 21 years of age.
- Consumption of marijuana in a public place or smoking of marijuana where prohibited by the person who owns, occupies, or manages that property.
- Cultivation of marijuana plants where they could be visible to the public.
- Possession of more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana in a residence, unless secured in a locked or restricted area.
Some violations would carry more serious criminal misdemeanor penalties, punishable with a fine up to $100 plus court costs, jail time, community service, and attendance of a substance abuse program. These include:
- Consuming marijuana in a vehicle upon a public roadway.
- Possession or consumption of marijuana on school property or in a school bus.
The original version of the ordinance classed possession of more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana on private property a (criminal) misdemeanor, but it was reduced to a civil infraction through an amendment introduced by Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann.
Council member Aaron Stephens introduced an amendment to designate consumption of marijuana in a vehicle as a criminal offense only if the vehicle is in motion, but he was voted down by the rest of the Council.
Altmann and Councilmember Shanna Draheim both expressed concern that limiting the criminal penalty to vehicles in motion might make it easier to “drive while stoned.”
Their main argument was that there is not a reliable test yet to determine one’s level of marijuana intoxication the way there is with alcohol, so stoned drivers could reduce their legal consequences simply by pulling over, turning off their vehicle and saying that they were not operating under the influence of marijuana. Existing tests might establish that the driver had consumed marijuana, but could not accurately pin down whether it was in the recent past or days earlier.
The new East Lansing law goes into effect May 8, 2019.
Note: This article was amended on May 3 to add a link to the now-available final version of the law and to add the day the law takes effect. We also corrected the third bullet in the first list by adding the words "or smoking of marijuana."
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