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Detroit Marijuana Decriminalization Policy Puzzles Police, Prosecutors

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DETROIT MARIJUANA
File photo. Local and county law enforcement officials are still grappling with the policy implications of Detroit's recent marijuana decriminalization measure. (AP/Marco Ugarte) | AP/Marco Ugarte

More than a month after Detroiters resoundingly approved Proposal M, a local ballot initiative to decriminalize pot in the city, local law enforcement agencies are still sorting out how it affects policing and prosecution of marijuana possession.

The measure, which went into effect in late November, amends city code to exempt adults over the age of 21 from being prosecuted for the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana on private property.

This past summer former Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee -- who resigned in October as the result of a sex scandal -- said if the measure passed the department might continue to enforce existing state and federal laws on marijuana. The Detroit Police Department has stated more recently, however, that the policy implications of Proposal M are still under consideration.

"At this time, the city of Detroit Law Department is reviewing this proposal," DPD spokeswoman Sgt. Eren Stephens wrote in a Thursday email to The Huffington Post.

In 2010, following the advice of the city's Law Department, the Detroit Election Commission blocked the marijuana referendum from appearing on the ballot. After a lengthy court battle it finally went before voters this November.

When asked for his input on the issue, Edward Keelean, deputy corporation counsel for the city, gave a response that was similar to DPD's position.

"There is no protocol in place as to how the city is going to proceed," he told The Huffington Post. "We need to sit down with the administration, the Police Department, the Law Department and other actors. At this point there is no final decision." Keelean also said the question of whether the city can prosecute state or federal marijuana cases is still being determined.

The Wayne State police, who patrol the Detroit university and neighborhoods near its campuses, also have yet to come up with an official policy on Proposal M, according to MLive.

"It’s a federal law regarding [marijuana possession] so it's probably something we’ll have to get an opinion on." Wayne State University Police Chief Anthony said. "But it's not a real big priority for us now."

As for how the new law impacts law enforcement and prosecution on a county level, that's still vague as well. Wayne County Sheriff's Office, Paula Bridges, a spokeswoman for Sheriff Benny Napoleon, told The Huffington Post in an email that his agency would "continue to enforce the mandated laws and ordinances that are enacted." She added that Napoleon had long been opposed to the measure "because of the harm that marijuana use causes the community."

However, Dennis Niemiec of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office recently told MLive that the agency had still not "developed a policy" on the issue and that it was still being reviewed by his organization's training and legal departments.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's office told The Huffington Post that Proposal M would be more of an issue for the city rather than the county for jurisdictional reasons.

"The possession cases are usually prosecuted under the local ordinances by the city attorney for the municipality and are generally not handled by the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office," said Worthy's spokeswoman Maria Miller.

Detroit's revised ordinance on marijuana won't have any impact on how state troopers handle posession. State law still treats possession as a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail and up to $2,000 in fines for those who are not authorized medical marijuana patients.

Detroit's Proposal M was just one of several marijuana initiatives to pass in Michigan and nationwide in the last election cycle. Decriminalization measures passed in Flint, Grand Rapids and Ypsilanti and Kalamazoo approved a proposal to establish medical marijuana dispensaries. During the election, voters in Colorado and Washington also approved recreational pot use for adults.

Although marijuana use is still illegal on the federal level, President Obama told Barbara Walters in a recent ABC News interview that going after recreational marijuana users in those states was not a "top priority" for his administration.

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