July 25, 2013

Grand Rapids, Michigan Marijuana Decriminalization Law Is Saving Tax Dollars

July 25, 2013
grand rapids marijuana decriminalization

grand rapids marijuana decriminalizationTestifying before a Grand Rapids public safety meeting on Tuesday, Grand Rapids police  Lt. William Nowicki reported police encounters for use and possession of marijuana are as frequent as they were last year- but the consequence has changed.

An election in 2012 changed possession and use of small amounts of marijuana from a misdemeanor offense resolved by the Courts to a civil infraction resolved with a ticket. Despite legal battles and changing opinions from the city attorney the new charter amendment became effective May 1.

In the 83 days since, Nowicki reports that Grand Rapids police have encountered 266 individuals who have either used or possessed less than 2.5 ounces of cannabis. Nearly all of them were ticketed under the new rules; 22 were given more serious charges related to other issues, MLive reports as Nowicki’s explanation.

During the same time period in 2012, Grand Rapids reported 259 incidents that were recorded as ‘marijuana cases’ of a misdemeanor nature.

The numbers do not lie: cost savings.

244 tickets issued over 83 days amounts to nearly three civil infractions written each calendar day.

That equates to three arrests avoided each day, three court cases not called each day, and three police encounters each day that do not result in a drug charge on a citizen’s permanent record.

Beyond the social advantages of not criminalizing people for a victimless crime, the financial advantage will be more difficult to realize. Nowicki reported that the average fee assessed for a marijuana misdemeanor ranges from $178 – 400; the median number in that range is $289.00. Those 244 tickets could have racked up an estimated $70,516 for the city.

Civil infraction tickets are $25, $50 and $100 for the first, second and third offense. Assuming that all the offenses in the first 83 days were also first offenses for the citizens involved, those 244 tickets represent a potential financial gain of $6100.

Despite losing roughly $250 per case in revenue the savings will be realized in ways that are particularly difficult to measure. Since prosecutors are paid on salary their billable time is not appreciably changed by the reduction of 21 cases every week- more than 4 every work day- but their staff’s performance on other cases should improve.

Although officers are still required to bag and tag confiscated marijuana they are saved the booking process and attendant paperwork; an estimate that the time saved by writing tickets instead of arresting citizens is conservatively one hour per police encounter. At least 244 hours were presumably spent chasing real crimes instead of misdemeanor marijuana offenses because of this new charter amendment.

Other savings can be seen over time: fewer court records to create, maintain, retrieve and store; fewer people being fingerprinted, fewer photographs taken, fewer keystrokes on aging police computer systems; fewer attorneys in court, fewer cases per day for the judges and their clerks, less wear and tear on the people and places of the judicial system.

The numbers do not lie: the character of the individuals involved. 

Of the 266 recorded police encounters Nowicki outlined 244 resulted in tickets issued; the other 22 resulted in penalties because of other crime-related factors.

91% of all persons stopped for marijuana possession or use by Grand Rapids police during that time period had their name run through the LEIN system and came back with no outstanding issues requiring arrest. This clearly illustrates the character of the typical marijuana user as a person not in trouble with the law.

Although additional demographic information about the locations where the tickets were issued is not available, we can assume the police presence is higher in areas of known crime and lighter in areas of relative safety. Assuming a large number of those 266 encounters happened in crime-stressed areas of the city, the 91% is even more surprising.

Beyond cannabis use, marijuana smokers are generally law-abiding citizens who simply make an alternative recreational choice. The numbers provided by the Grand Rapids Police Department illustrate that point.

Source: The Compassion Chronicles


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