Decriminalization Of Marijuana Is A Journey Of Many Roads

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"House Representatives do not make the decision to raid your house, nor do they represent you once you are in the legal system. Until the law enforcers demonstrate that attitudes and practices are changing, law creators exist in an advisory capacity only."

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I attended the Town Hall meeting held by Reps. Mike Shirkey and Jeff Irwin in Grass Lake last night. There were 60 people in the audience, a guest speaker from Chicago and big American flag on the wall. The subject: decriminalizing marijuana in Michigan via Irwin's House Bill 4623.

Decriminalization would make minor marijuana offenses civil infractions instead of misdemeanor crimes. A violation would result in a ticket, not a court case; Grand Rapids passed a law with the same requirement in 2012 and the results have been fantastic. Decriminalization would not stop police from arresting serious dealers or minors in possession of marijuana.

It's tough to speak to a room full of haters, but one of the guest did just that. Rep. Shirkey asked a prosecutor from the area to come forward and share his view point with the crowd of admittedly pro-marijuana activists. He was animated, he was funny, and he spoke frankly about why he would not support decriminalization.

One of his answers struck me oddly. The prosecutor said that it was important to get to the upper level drug dealers and one of the most effective ways to do that is to threaten lower level dealers with jail and penalties if they don't give up names of their suppliers or growers. "No one is going to be intimidated if you threaten them with a civil infraction ticket," he told the room, a statement which drew some gasps from the crowd.

This tactic has been used against our friends and ourselves, but the bold statement was a shock. Openly admitting that he opposed decriminalization because it would make the prosecutor's job harder was a complaint few had actually heard from one who is charged with our protection and safety.

Using marijuana laws to circumvent police procedures or to trick people into committing criminal acts is nothing new. Kevin Spitler of the Michigan Sober Project has been working diligently in Ohio as they move toward more friendly cannabis policies. During the meeting he pointed out that Ohio decriminalized marijuana decades ago but ramped up the penalties for paraphernalia; the officer uses the paraphernalia charge as a lever to force the suspect to give him information in the manner described by the prosecutor.

New York City does the same thing. James Gierach, a Chicago-based speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), spoke at the meeting and reminded the crowd of New York's stop-and-frisk laws. New York has a low penalty for possession of marijuana but a harsh one for openly displaying cannabis; an officer will ask a person to turn out their pockets and in doing so the cannabis is revealed, creating a public display charge officers can use to force the hapless individual to give them information.

Reps. Shirkey and Irwin were quick to point out they were aware of these associated methods of circumventing marijuana laws and both vowed to be vigilant in preventing similar things from happening in Michigan.

Although I took some comfort from their assurances, I still feel uneasy. House Representatives do not make the decision to raid your house, nor do they represent you once you are in the legal system. Until the law enforcers demonstrate that attitudes and practices are changing, law creators exist in an advisory capacity only.

Source: The Compassion Chronicles

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