Our Voice: Ann Arbor Decriminalized Marijuana, Why Not Detroit?

In 2005, Denver was the first major city to legalize small amounts of marijuana.  A few other cities, including Seattle and Ann Arbor have laws that make marijuana possession a low priority for police. In Ann Arbor, Michigan first-time marijuana possession of less than two ounces is only a civil infraction – rather than misdemeanor or felony – and carries a $25 fine with no jail time or probation.  It’s like a speeding ticket and only a fraction of people end up going to court over it.

So, why not Detroit?

CNN recently compiled a list of cities considered among the most dangerous based on factors such as effectiveness of law enforcement, crime statistics, media reports and internal stability. Detroit was one of only two U.S. cities to make the list, listed third after Baghdad!  According to, the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, the 36th District Court records indicate that in 2009 there were 1,521 arrests for simple possession or use of small amounts of marijuana in Detroit. Each case requires a minimum of 5 hours to process at an estimated cost of $350 per hour, making the total cost of these unnecessary prosecutions more than $2.6 million per year.

So, why is Detroit spending so much time and money pursuing simple marijuana possession cases when the City could be focusing their limited resources on more important matters, like dangerous violent crimes? Many people argue that the city of Detroit would not be able to handle the decriminalization of marijuana because it has the reputation as a poor, uneducated and criminally inclined city.  This is unlike the perception of city of Ann Arbor where the population is considered to appreciate higher learning, culture, and trend setting.

The Coalition for a Safer Detroit advocates amending Detroit city code to eliminate criminal penalties for use or possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana by adults on private property.  State law does preempt local laws; so, if adopted, the Detroit Police could still charge a marijuana user under state law if they choose to do so.  But, passing the amendment to the Detroit city code would send a message to the Mayor, Council, Prosecutor, and the Detroit Police – to focus on the real problems of Detroit and stop wasting the people’s time and money.

Most Michigan cities, including Detroit, opt to follow state law where POSSESSION of any amount of weed – a leaf fragment, a burnt roach, or 1 seed – is sufficient to be arrested, charged, and sentenced for a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000.  SMOKING weed is a separate crime (“Use of Marijuana”) that carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $100 fine. If you light up in a public place a judge has the discretion to increase the misdemeanor charge to a 2-year felony

Decriminalizing the possession and use of small amounts would free up the police and courts to focus their limited resources on more important matters – like getting Detroit out of national rankings as one the most dangerous cities, comparable to Baghdad. For more information on the Coalition for a Safer Detroit and the amendment to Detroit’s city code regarding marijuana visit http://www.saferdetroit.net/index.php.


If you have been charged with a marijuana offense or need information on becoming medical marijuana patient or caregiver contact Samantha@amborselawgroup.com or call (248) 624-5500.

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1 Comment

Filed under Marijuana, Our Voice - Op/Ed

One response to “Our Voice: Ann Arbor Decriminalized Marijuana, Why Not Detroit?

  1. Kim Robbins

    Good article!

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