$100K Problem: Marijuana Tickets

In 2012, Grand Rapids voters approved a charter amendment to decriminalize marijuana. After a delay involving the Kent County prosecutor, the voter’s wishes were finally recognized and the charter amendment put into effect. Recently there was an article describing the amount of unpaid fines, and how the figure is growing. The city manager is considering charging people not paying fines with a misdemeanor.

The charter amendment, explained here, set civil fine rates as follows: $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second offense, and $100 or more for further offenses. The above fine rates do not include court costs. I have no idea how these individuals are apprehended, but it seems likely that if they’re on a third offense, they then become a target for future enforcement.

As mayor, I would obtain legal council to determine the possibility, legality and methodology required to remove fines for these “offenses” altogether, or to vastly reduce and simplify them. Realistically, could I accomplish this? Probably not. But it’s issues like these that demonstrate what I think government’s role should be, offers another take on civil liberties, and offers more transparency about what kind of candidate I am.

The people of Grand Rapids obviously wanted marijuana decriminalized, and to make it politically expedient, likely added the fine structure to the proposal, using Ann Arbor as a precedent. If we have decriminalized it, and it’s being used within the confines of the charter amendment, then why should we harass our citizens with civil fines, and threats of misdemeanors?

Enactment of the charter amendment seems to have caused no problems other than the unintended consequence of the unpaid fines. Removing or altering the fine structure would free law enforcement, from police to prosecutors to courts, to make more efficient use of their time.

  • Warning: I am not condoning or promoting the use of marijuana, and would caution people to remember there are still draconian federal and state laws on the books.

In my opinion, we have increasingly oppressive federal, and to a lesser degree, state governments. We have more control at the local level: I’m giving voters a chance to opt for a less oppressive city government.

I find it ironic that the $100,000 we are harassing our fellow citizens over is almost identical to the $100,000 the city spends annually to put the waste byproduct hydrofluorosilicic acid into our water supply.

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