Pot cases tossed af­ter Prop 1

AG-elect Nes­sel en­cour­ages move by some pros­e­cu­tors

The Detroit News - - News - BY CHRIS­TINE FER­RETTI The Detroit News

Pros­e­cut­ing agen­cies in Michi­gan are re­view­ing and — in some cases — al­ready seek­ing dis­missal of lower-level drug cases in light of a voter-ap­proved bal­lot mea­sure to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana.

In Oak­land County, pros­e­cu­tors are pro­ceed­ing as if the law is in ef­fect and toss­ing pend­ing cases that ap­ply in the dis­trict and cir­cuit court sys­tems, said Paul Wal­ton, the county’s chief as­sis­tant pros­e­cut­ing at­tor­ney.

“We be­gan look­ing at this a while back,” Wal­ton said. “We are go­ing through files now and eval­u­at­ing those and when ap­pro­pri­ate, those charges will be dis­missed.”

The pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice does not have a large back­log of mar­i­juana-re­lated cases that are pend­ing re­view.

Civil pos­ses­sion is not fre­quently brought in Oak­land County, he said. Rather, it’s of­ten dealt with as an “add on” charge that ac­com­pa­nies other of­fenses, in­clud­ing traf­fic stops in which drugs or con­cealed weapons are found.

“Any cases sub­mit­ted to us, we’re go­ing to have to re­view with all the new laws in mind,” he said. “There are still ways to vi­o­late the mar­i­juana statute.”

Do­ing away with sim­ple mis­de­meanor pos­ses­sion cases is some­thing Michi­gan At­tor­ney Gen­eral-elect Dana Nes­sel said she’s en­cour­ag­ing for county pros­e­cu­tors in the state.

“I would en­cour­age county pros­e­cu­tors not to pur­sue those cases be­cause what’s the point? Vot­ers of this state have de­cided that should be legally ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior if a per­son is 21 or over,” Nes­sel told The Detroit News. “I think it’s a waste of re­sources, and I don’t think it’s re­ally ben­e­fit­ing any­one.”

Michi­gan vot­ers on Tues­day passed Pro­posal 1 with 57 per­cent ap­proval, mak­ing the state the first in the Mid­west to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana, to un­of­fi­cial re­sults.

The ini­tia­tive will al­low adults over the age of 21 to pos­sess up to 2.5 ounces of mar­i­juana and grow up to 12 plants per house­hold. Michi­gan will be­come the 10th state to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion and its use.

With its pas­sage, pos­ses­sion will be­come le­gal im­me­di­ately af­ter the state law goes into ef­fect, which would be 10 days af­ter the Nov. 6 elec­tion re­sults are cer­ti­fied.

Wayne County Pros­e­cu­tor Kym L. Wor­thy said in a state­ment to The Detroit News on Thurs­day that her of­fice is com-


mit­ted to fol­low­ing the law re­gard­ing the pros­e­cu­tion of mar­i­juana cases.

The smaller cases, she noted, are “over­whelm­ingly” pros­e­cuted by city at­tor­neys. The same is the case in Oak­land County, where Wal­ton said lower level mar­i­juana cases are is­sued at the city at­tor­ney level as an or­di­nance vi­o­la­tion among the county’s 47 com­mu­ni­ties. Of­fi­cials with the Ma­comb County Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice could not be reached for com­ment.

Wayne County, Wor­thy said, does cur­rently have tick­eted or­di­nance vi­o­la­tions from the Michi­gan State Po­lice that are pend­ing re­view.

“Although the law is not retroac­tive, in the com­ing weeks, we will as­sess the tick­ets that have al­ready been charged, as well as those pend­ing re­view, tak­ing the new law into con­sid­er­a­tion,” she said.

Pros­e­cu­tors through­out the state can main­tain ex­ist­ing cases that were charged prior to the adop­tion of the law, or elect to dis­miss them, said DJ Hil­son, pres­i­dent of the Pros­e­cut­ing At­tor­neys As­so­ci­a­tion of Michi­gan.

“Each in­di­vid­ual pros­e­cu­tor has the abil­ity to make an in­de­pen­dent de­ci­sion on what they want to do with their cur­rent cases and ul­ti­mately, when the leg­is­la­tion is put in place, we’ll do what we al­ways do, which is fol­low the law as its writ­ten,” said Hil­son, who is also the pros­e­cu­tor of Muskegon County.

“Cer­tainly, in­di­vid­ual pros­e­cu­tors are start­ing to make these de­ci­sions,” he added. “As an or­ga­ni­za­tion, we’re go­ing to re­spect each and ev­ery one of them for what­ever de­ci­sion they make.”

For his part, Hil­son said Muskegon County in­tends to re­view all of its pend­ing cases and he doesn’t be­lieve there are many. Most of the county’s mar­i­juana charges are tied to other crimes.

“Whether or not we choose to main­tain that charge on that par­tic­u­lar file or dis­miss it as part of plea bar­gain of some kind, we haven’t made that call,” he said. “It’s a mat­ter of pulling files.”

Michi­gan State Po­lice re­leased a state­ment af­ter the pas­sage of the law, not­ing Michi­gan’s crim­i­nal jus­tice com­mu­nity will need to im­ple­ment new poli­cies that ac­count for the le­gal use and pos­ses­sion of the drug by per­sons of age un­der the new law.

“The MSP will con­sult with the Michi­gan At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice to de­ter­mine spe­cific im­pact on ex­ist­ing depart­ment poli­cies and pro­ce­dures, and will then train our mem­bers to en­sure the new law is ap­plied ap­pro­pri­ately,” the state­ment reads.

On Wed­nes­day, Gov.-elect Gretchen Whit­mer in­di­cated she will pur­sue ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion or leg­is­la­tion to free in­mates and ex­punge crim­i­nal records for those con­victed of mar­i­juana crimes that will be­come le­gal un­der the state’s pend­ing mar­i­juana law.

Nes­sel, an ad­vo­cate for the le­gal­iza­tion pro­posal, said she’s sup­port­ive of leg­is­la­tion aimed at clear­ing records for low-level mar­i­juana of­fenses “so peo­ple aren’t sad­dled with these con­vic­tions for the rest of their lives.”

The bal­lot ini­tia­tive, from the Coali­tion to Reg­u­late Mar­i­juana like Al­co­hol, pro­hibits mar­i­juana con­sump­tion or smok­ing in a pub­lic place or pri­vate lo­ca­tion where the owner for­bids it, and it won’t over­ride work­place drug poli­cies.

The mea­sure also al­lows for the li­cens­ing of busi­nesses that grow, process, test, trans­port or sell mar­i­juana with three classes of cul­ti­va­tor li­censes.

The law, state po­lice said, does not change the state’s im­paired driv­ing laws, “which means that driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of mar­i­juana re­mains il­le­gal.”

The U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fices in Michi­gan, mean­while, are also mak­ing clear that mar­i­juana re­mains pro­hib­ited un­der fed­eral law.

U.S. At­tor­neys Matthew Sch­nei­der and An­drew Birge in a Thurs­day state­ment stressed: “We will con­tinue to ap­proach the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and pros­e­cu­tion of mar­i­juana crimes as we do with any other crime.”

The U.S. At­tor­ney’s of­fices said that com­bat­ing il­le­gal drugs “is just one of our many pri­or­i­ties.”


Todd McIn­turf / The Detroit News

Michi­gan vot­ers passed Pro­posal 1 with 57 per­cent ap­proval.

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