Dec. 6, 2012 02:15

A Tale of Two Cities

Flint and Grand Rapids grapple with two different takes on decriminalization


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” So begins Charles Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities. Though written about 19th century social unrest, his story of tension mirrors the crossroads Michigan faces.

Grand Rapids and Flint have taken opposite stances to voter-led marijuana enforcement reforms, forming a befuddling two-city contrast that highlights the juncture at which Michigan has arrived. The question is: Which way lies wisdom, and which way is foolishness?

Though Flint approved its measure to decriminalize by nearly 57 percent, city administrators say the proposal “is symbolic in nature. The public should fully appreciate that possession of marijuana remains illegal.”

City Attorney Pete Bade attenuates his remarks, saying, “It definitely changes our local ordinance, so that isn’t symbolic at all.” However, don’t “make the mistake of thinking you can come in to Flint and smoke marijuana in the city and not get charged because you will.”

Meanwhile, Grand Rapids administrators offered a more supportive response. According to Grand Rapids attorney Catherine Mish, citizens approved a similar measure and directed administrators to switch to civil infractions for marijuana possession. Police are prohibited from arresting citizens and will instead issue appearance tickets.

“I think we’re very different from Flint,” she says. “We’re not saying, ‘Despite what the voters indicated, we’re going to go ahead and do what we’ve planned to do all along.’ We’re taking the results from the election very seriously,” she insists.

While, like Flint, the new ordinance will not stop state troopers or sheriffs from enforcing state and federal statutes, citizens of Grand Rapids now tell officers how to deal with petty, non-violent marijuana offenses. Flint’s ballot initiative does not direct local police as the measure in Grand Rapids does.

“I hope no one in Flint or the east side of the state is discouraged by this because this isn’t over,” says Mike Tuffelmire, a combat veteran and Director of Decriminalize GR, the group behind the initiative. “These things take time and sometimes things are a little rough when they are getting set in. We have a great system and it can be used effectively”

I think we’re at a time when people realize the War on Drugs hasn’t worked . . . the best thing we can do is admit that we were wrong and make a policy that is right. We did it here in Grand Rapids, and apparently we’re not alone.”

Faced with insubordination from their City employees who refuse to do as instructed, voters in Flint may think this is the worst of times. On the other hand, citizens of Grand Rapids are celebrating the return of rationality to their city and may believe this is the best of times.

As the Michigan Supreme Court works through the cannabis cases before it, municipalities and voters will gain a clearer sense of which way is foolishness and which way is wisdom.


Punishment Fits the Crime

Supporters of Grand Rapids’ Proposal 2 had argued that decriminalizing cannabis would save city coffers an estimated $2.5 million in city and jail costs. It would also lessen the police department’s workload so officers can focus on serious crimes, and decrease the number of people compiling a criminal record for minor offenses, WZZN13 reports.


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