Other articles by the same author
On November 6th Grand Rapids voters will go to the polls to vote on a city charter amendment to make marijuana possession or use a civil infraction or the equivalent of a ticket with a fine of up to $100.
The ballot initiative known as Proposal 2 was made possible by Decriminalize GR (DCGR). Since the local citizen group collected over 10,000 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot many community leaders and activists have endorsed the initiative.
Last month DCGR hosted a press conference in which several civic leaders announced their endorsement at the historic Calkins Law office. Supporters of the initiative seem to agree on two key points in regard to the proposal; the need to allocate Public Safety resources in a more efficient way and having the punishment fit the crime for possession of a small amount of marijuana.
Azizi Jasper, a spoken word artist and community activist feels that decriminalization is an “intelligent decision in the direction we as a community want to go in."
Ruth Kelly, City Commissioner of the 2nd ward agrees.
“This was a citizen initiated ballot proposal, when people make the effort to get 10K signatures for a ballot proposal, we owe it to the constituents to listen,” she says.
Under the current law, students charged with possession can lose their eligibility for federal grants and loans to attend college.
“It is time to question whether marijuana laws are appropriate. Other cities [like Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo] have decriminalized. Perhaps it is time we should consider it,” Kelly adds. “I have concerns about the consequences the current law has on young adults. How the penalties impact their education and job opportunities. We need to align the penalties with the crime."
A misdemeanor charge can remain on a person’s record and affect their future like an albatross around their necks. It is due to the harsh collateral penalties that Jasper believes decriminalization becomes an “extremely important social justice issue.” He feels that to have a healthy community, the community should be “allowing people to have a future without something so egregious that stays with you for the rest of your life.”
2nd Ward City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss, who has experience as a social worker, agrees.
"[I have seen] kids get caught with a small amount and then get saddled with a criminal offense on their record. I would much rather see it be a civil infraction than a misdemeanor,” says Bliss.
Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen draws the connection between the current policy and the perpetual revolving door of career criminals this can create for young people, especially minorities.
“When I combine that perspective with the data that we do have about the clear racial inequity in drug law enforcement and the detrimental effect on the careers of young people who happen to get caught and put into the law enforcement system for possession or use of small amounts, I just can't make sense of what we are currently doing,” he states.
Commissioner Bliss also feels strongly that with a Public Safety department with limited resources, “we need to refocus our priorities,” she says. Talen agrees on taking another look at how Grand Rapids spends it justice system dollars.
“We are spending a lot of justice system dollars on "crimes" related to marijuana use," says Talen. "That might make sense if there were data to indicate that the cost and effort result in reduced use. But most young people I've talked to say that marijuana is already easy for most anyone to get. If people are going to use, it's easy enough to get.”
Jasper feels that decriminalization means progression as a society and echoes Talen’s statements.
“DCGR is something young people should rally around. It is long overdue that we don’t look with a critical eye at the way we try certain offenses,” Jasper says.
The theme of alternatives and trying different perspectives seems to be a commonality among supporters of DCGR.
“Decriminalization is a reasonable alternative that has worked well in other places in Michigan and around the U.S. and deserves a try in Grand Rapids.” Talen says.
Steven Davison was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Mi.