Decriminalizing Grand Rapids

December 11, 2015

In 2012, Grand Rapids became one of several cities in Michigan where the voters have chosen to decriminalize the possession and use of marijuana. The drug remains illegal under state law, but decriminalization at the local level allows local police agencies to focus their resources on combating more serious crime.

In response to the decriminalization initiative in Grand Rapids, the Kent County Prosecuting Attorney filed a lawsuit to have the measure struck down, claiming that it is preempted by state law. The trial court rejected the prosecutor’s claims and dismissed the lawsuit, but the prosecutor appealed.

The ACLU of Michigan filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Michigan Court of Appeals in 2013, arguing that the decriminalization measure is not preempted because localities have discretion to allocate their limited law enforcement resources as they see fit.

The ACLU also directed the court’s attention to new data showing that racial disparities in marijuana arrests are higher in Kent County than almost anywhere else in the country, thereby providing voters in Grand Rapids with another good reason to place reasonable restrictions on local law enforcement.

In January 2015, the court of Appeals agreed with the ACLU of Michigan and affirmed the dismissal of the prosecutors lawsuit. In December 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court denied the prosecutor's request to further review the case.

(Kent County Prosecuting Attorney v. City of Grand Rapids; ACLU Attorneys Dan Korobkin and Miriam Aukerman; Cooperating Attorney Joslin Monahan.)