After months of dialogue and drafts, the Michigan House of Representatives received its first push to decriminalize marijuana.
On Wednesday morning, state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) brought forward a bill that would decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, reducing the penalty to a fine that would increase with the number of recorded offenses.
Michigan spends about $326 million per annum on “arresting, trying and imprisoning people for marijuana offenses,” Irwin said at a press conference Wednesday morning. He believes these policies are “remarkably ineffective” at preventing cannabis abuse and thus called for new legislation.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy is an international grassroots organization that seeks to empower youth through drug education. LSA senior Sebastian Blake Swae-Shampine, legislative action director for Michigan’s chapter of SSDP, said the bill was the first step in combating the “war on drugs.”
“The imposition of a fine rather than punishment through prosecution would bring the consequences of marijuana abuse in the domain of public health rather than criminal justice,” Swae-Shampine said.
Swae-Shampine added that treating marijuana like a crime creates “social ills” in low-income and minority communities.
“The way the Controlled Substances Act is enforced is not equal with the way that the various demographics units of this country use drugs,” Swae-Shampine said. “Minorities and Caucasians use drugs at the same rates but if you look at incarceration, minorities are disparately impacted by these laws.”
While the bill aims to relax marijuana possession laws in the state of Michigan, its passing will not have a direct impact on the Ann Arbor community.
Since 1974, Ann Arbor has had one of the most lenient cannabis laws in the U.S. With a $25 penalty, the possession of marijuana is already a civil infraction within the city borders rather than a criminal offense.
However, it remains uncertain whether the University campus will ease its marijuana policy. Drug Free Schools and Communities, a federal drug policy regulating the manufacture, possession and distribution of narcotics, binds the University, as a federally funded institution, to imprison those who possess marijuana.
While SSDP has spoken with University administrators on the decriminalization of medical marijuana on campus, Swae-Shampine said he did not foresee any changes being made to University policy due to the federal stipulation.
The bill is likely to face resistance on the floor of the Senate when up for debate, Swae-Shampine said, because of its “left-leaning” nature.
Swae-Shampine said if the bill passed, he did not believe it would encourage further drug use.
“People who are going to use cannabis will do so regardless of the law,” he said. “I predict that there will be a minor uptake in first time users.”