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Decriminalization Proposed in House Senate

Jeff Irwin

In April of 2013, Representative Jeff Irwin introduced House Bill 4623 that would decriminalize the use and possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for all adult residents of Michigan. The bill was introduced in the wake of other decriminalization initiatives which passed in the cities of Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Flint, and Ypsilanti. Representative Irwin, along with the majority of Americans, cites numerous studies showing that prohibition is not working, and that arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating marijuana offenders comes at a huge cost to American tax payers. Irwin believes that there is also a philosophical reason to decriminalize marijuana for adults, saying that, “America is a free country, individuals making personal lifestyle choices, if they are engaging in activities that are harming no one but themselves, that should be allowed.” Coupled with the waste of money, and the philosophical debate on what Freedom really stands for in America, we must think about the cost to the individual who uses marijuana in today’s prohibition society.

The timing was triggered by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that federal authorities no longer will interfere as states increasingly adopt laws to either allow medical marijuana or legalize the drug entirely. The hearing was requested by its committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont. Leahy questioned whether, at a time of severe budget cutting, federal prosecutions of marijuana users are the best use of taxpayer dollars.

Many at the hearing hoped for a breakthrough that would lead to changes in federal banking laws, allowing marijuana sellers to accept credit cards and checks, not just cash. Allowing sellers to accept checks and credit cards would do a lot to prevent the burglarization of their locations and would keep money out of the hands of organized crime.

Many others were calling for all out legalization, including Leahy himself. With marijuana now legal for recreational use in Washington and Colorado, it makes little sense for the federal government to maintain the current schedule one labeling of the drug. In Michigan, lawmakers could take up House Bill 4623 that would decriminalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults over 21. Michigan currently spends roughly $325 million annually to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate marijuana users, many of whom are patients and caregivers under the current Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA).


The punishment for possessing up to an ounce of marijuana would be a civil infraction and a fine, rather than the prospect of prison. First offenders would be fined $25, second offenders $50, with the cap of a $100 fine for individuals with three or more offenses. Michigan alone spends $325 million a year arresting, prosecuting, incarcerating, yet Marijuana today is more readily available today than ever. By fining an individual, the state avoids these costs, and has system in place to make a few easy bucks.


Coupled with the waste of money, and the philosophical debate on what freedom really stands for in America, we must think about the cost to the individual who uses marijuana in today’s prohibition society. Derek Cop was one such individual. When Derek was 20 years old, he was a student at Grand Valley State University. Derek sold small amounts of Marijuana from his apartment, and the police knew about this after several months of surveillance. One night, 12 officers stormed the apartment and shot Derek in the chest, leaving him in critical care. When he was loaded into the ambulance, an officer accompanied him to ensure that Derek, with a bullet hole in his chest, didn’t try anything. When he arrived at the hospital, an officer was in his room to greet him. Derek’s parents were unaware of what had happened to their son until they got a call at 2 AM from Derek, who explained that he had been shot by the police for selling marijuana. Derek laid in bed fearing that he would either die or go to prison.


What Representative Irwin has proposed is nothing radical; already, 16 states have passed decriminalization either through legislative action or ballot initiatives. These states include:

1) Alaska

2) California

3) Colorado

4) Connecticut

5) Maine

6) Massachusetts

7) Minnesota

8) Mississippi

9) Nebraska

10) Nevada

11) New York

12) Ohio

13) Oregon

14) Washington

15) North Carolina

16) Rhode Island

It has been repeatedly shown that voters are overwhelmingly in support of decriminalization.


Republican Mike Shirkey agrees with Representative Irwin that it is “The right time to have this in Michigan.” The data is clear that prohibition efforts waste a lot of money, energy, resources to accomplish something that has completely, utterly failed. Shirkey believes that Government should protect people’s freedoms. In Shirkey’s eyes, the best government by and large, is a smaller less restraining government.

Further, keeping marijuana illegal has created a cash crop for the black market and violent, organized crime. Prohibition of alcohol in the 1930’s showed us what happens when you push a substance so popular with the public into the unregulated criminal world. Gang violence, organized crime, and murder rates soared as a result of prohibition. History has shown us that regulation, not prohibition, is the best way to deal with substances like alcohol and marijuana. It is high time that we decriminalized marijuana for adults in Michigan.

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