In Ann Arbor, the difference between getting up to a year in
jail and a simple $50 ticket for the use of marijuana can depend
wholly on which police agency issues the citation.
Ann Arbor passed an ordinance in 1972 that decriminalized the
use of marijuana, making it the only city in Michigan with such an
The Ann Arbor Police Department can enforce the city ordinance
with a $50 ticket in its jurisdiction, which comprises the city of
Ann Arbor outside of University property.
By contrast, the Department of Public Safety, the
University’s police force, must enforce state law rather than
city ordinance — punishing marijuana use with up to 90 days
in jail on all University property. Possession can land the
lawbreaker in jail for up to a year, Washtenaw County Prosecutor
Joseph Burke said.
“If AAPD encounters someone on U of M property, they call
DPS and we’ll respond and take over,” DPS Lt. Bob
The issue of marijuana use becomes even more blurry on property
adjacent to the University. In areas such as State Street, where
both DPS and AAPD have jurisdiction, either agency can catch
offenders and write tickets according to their separate edicts.
An LSA sophomore who wished to remain anonymous said he made the
mistake of possessing marijuana on University property. Due to
DPS’s enforcement of the harsher state law, he said he has
paid sorely for it.
When DPS cites an individual for the use or possession of
marijuana, the offender appears in court for having committed a
misdemeanor. Ann Arbor’s decriminalization law does not apply
in such cases.
The sophomore said DPS caught him smoking marijuana in his dorm
room with his friends.
“I was the only one with pot in my possession. They said
it would be between six to eight weeks before I heard from them
again because they had to send the pot to the lab. I got the
citation over Thanksgiving break about seven months after it
happened,” he said.
He added that his case was somewhat unique. Besides being caught
for marijuana possession, he also got a citation for being a minor
in possession of alcohol, for substances found in his room.
“My parents don’t know I’m going through this
at all. … It is so stressful. I wish I knew my punishment
and it could all be over. It is not going away — I’m
going to court for the pre-trial, then in another month I will be
sentenced and I will probably be on probation for a year,” he
By comparison, the AAPD’s ticket process falls lightly on
possessors and users, as illustrated by the case one 21-year-old
Ann Arbor resident cited by the AAPD for possessing pot.
“I had smoked a roach and I was rolling a joint, about 0.7
or 0.8 grams of pot. I got possession, not use of pot, which was a
ticket for $50,” he said.
He added that he views the city ordinance on marijuana as
somewhat of a joke because of the light punishment that it gives
“I just wonder how many times an Ann Arbor officer would
give me a ticket for smoking a joint on the corner of South
University Avenue and East University Avenue before he took me to
jail,” he said.
Assistant City Attorney Robert West said that the AAPD can issue
a person an unlimited number of tickets for marijuana use, but no
amount of tickets can lead to jailtime.
Still, depending on how the perpetrator intends to use the
marijuana, the Ann Arbor police can enforce harsh penalties. Ann
Arbor’s decriminalization ordinance does not pertain to
persons who possess the drug with intent to deliver. Trafficking,
by the AAPD’s code or by DPS’s, is a felony carrying up
to four years in prison.
In addition, Washtenaw County police and state police follow
Michigan law for marijuana use and possession, without regard to
Ann Arbor’s decriminalization ordinance.