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Officials fear repercussions of legalized recreational marijuana

Becky Vargo • Nov 5, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Ottawa County Circuit Court Administrator Kevin Bowling said it’s a waiting game to see what will happen in the court system if the recreational marijuana proposal is approved in Tuesday’s election.

If passed, the proposal would make Michigan the 10th state in the country to allow recreational use of marijuana.

The other states are California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

A recreational marijuana law went into effect in Canada in October.

But even if the proposal passes, people shouldn’t expect their existing controlled substance charges to be reduced.

“Typically, if someone is charged with a crime, the charge is based on the time the crime was committed and what the law was at the time,” Bowling said. “If they pass a new law, it doesn’t have a retroactive effect.”

RELATED: Why Proposal 1 would be good for Michigan

First offense possession or use of marijuana in Michigan is currently a misdemeanor crime, with a penalty of up to a $2,000 fine and up to two years in jail.

At an informational forum held Oct. 18 at the Ottawa County Filmore Street complex, Scott Greenlee, representing Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), noted that of the 419 people in jail on that day in Ingham County, only two of them incarcerated for marijuana.

On the same day in the Michigan Department of Corrections, there were seven people locked up for a marijuana charge, Greenlee said.

His point was that a recreational marijuana law wasn’t likely to decrease the numbers of marijuana law violators in jail.

In fact, his organization, along with law enforcement officials believe that their work will significantly increase.

In Colorado, they saw an increase in impaired driving and a spike in emergency room visits, Bowling said. There has been increased need for treatment programs and an increase in crimes against people and “crimes against society.”

Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderburg said mental health and addiction agencies are overwhelmed with need already, let alone what will happen if the recreational use law passes.

Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Kempker said he expects to see an increase in crashes and crimes with increased use of marijuana.

“We’ve already seen an increase in drugged driving in Ottawa County,” the sheriff said.

Kempker said he expects an increase in homeless people as they are attracted to the state to use marijuana.

And because marijuana stays in your system for 15-30 days after use, people will not be able to pass drug tests required by many employers.

The burden for their care then goes on the taxpayers, he said.

Kempker said policing drugged driving situations is also a lot more time consuming for police officers.

The Michigan proposal would allow people, age 21 and over, to possess use or process up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana or up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrate.

Recreational use would allow an individual to grow up to 12 plants, and have up to 10 ounces of marijuana in the home.

The proposal would create a state licensing system for marijuana businesses, create a 10 percent excise tax on marijuana sales and change several current violations to civil infractions.

Brownlee said an economic study projects legal marijuana will net the state $520 million over a 5-year period.

That works out to a fraction of a percentage of the state’s budget, Brownlee said.

He emphasized that that drop in the bucket, even if all of the money was channeled to Ottawa County, wouldn’t cover the cost of repaving eight miles of U.S. 31.

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