DETROIT
05/01/2013 02:26 pm ET

Grand Rapids Marijuana Decriminalization Finally Implemented After Long Wait

AP/Elaine Thompson

City leaders must have got distracted or something. It's been six months since Grand Rapids voters approved a measure amending the city's charter to decriminalize marijuana -- and up to now there's been little to show for it. But this month, police are being asked to go a little easier on small-time pot users.

An order issued by Grand Rapids City Manager Gregory Sundstrom, effective May 1, is now directing police to issue civil infraction tickets for minor marijuana offenses, instead of treating them as misdemeanors. Certain offenses like the possession of over over 2.5 ounces of pot will still be subject criminal prosecution, under guidelines set by the city.

The new charter amendment is still the focus of an ongoing court case. In fact, that's partly to blame for the long delay in enforcing the new charter amendment. The city originally tried to implement new procedures in December, but those efforts were hindered when a lawsuit was filed by the Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth, Michigan Radio reports. Forsyth has argued that the charter amendment circumvents state law, according to MLive.

Sundstrom, the city manager, had been waiting for Kent County Circuit Judge Paul Sullivan to make a statement on how to enforce the new charter amendment. When that didn't happen at a recent court hearing, he decided decriminalization would not apply to felonies and issued his own guidelines, Michigan Radio reports.

“The judge signaled to us that he would not make a decision or would likely not make a decision on our ability to draw a line as I have described it," he told the news station. "So if he’s not going to rule on it, we might as well implement it."

Judge Sullivan has said he would rule on the charter amendment within two weeks of an April 24 hearing.

The city's decision to begin implementing decriminalization has been received warmly by marijuana advocates.

“I applaud the city manager for moving forward," Attorney Jack Hoffman of DecriminalizeGR, the group that placed the measure on the ballot, told MLive. "We could have done that last January after the judge dissolved the restraining order, but that’s over and done, so let’s move forward.”

The news has also been the source of several celebratory tweets on twitter, including some who are treating the implementation date as a holiday:

Detroit voters also approved a measure partially decriminalizing pot last November, but city officials have so far refrained from announcing clear implementation guidelines. Last month, State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) introduced a bill that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in Michigan, which has attracted some bipartisan support.

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