State Representative Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) formally announced legislation today that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Under House Bill 4623, being caught possessing less than one ounce of marijuana would result in a civil infraction with a fine, but not jail time.
Currently, Michigan's law classifies marijuana possession as a misdemeanor with the possibility of a heavy fine and jail time.
However, this bill doesn't protect marijuana users from federal law.
"If the DEA were operating a sting on small marijuana users, they could still be busted," Irwin said. "But most of the money that is spent to enforce marijuana prohibition is spent at the local and state level."
The financial resources that the state of Michigan dedicates to marijuana prohibition can be estimated conservatively at around $325 million dollars annually, Irwin said.
"That money could be invested to more important priorities for our state - growing jobs, investing in our education system, improving our roads and freeing up public safety to focus on more violent crimes. Those are all higher priorities for me, and I think those are priorities for most people in Michigan."
Irwin mentioned data that the Pew Center recently released which reported that 72 percent of individuals believe that more money is spent enforcing marijuana prohibition than is necessary.
Financial benefits aren't the only reason that Irwin is sponsoring this bill.
"We have a tradition of freedom and liberty here in this country. I think that that tradition is based on the idea that if individuals are engaging in behaviors that aren't harmful to anyone but themselves, then the government should stay out of that. This is an opportunity to save money and accomplish a win for smaller government."
In response to critics of House Bill 4623, Irwin said that Michigan wouldn't be the first state to decriminalize marijuana.
Seventeen other states have already done so, including Michigan's neighbor, Ohio. Irwin also noted that the bill isn't expected to increase marijuana use.
"We find from the research that when people make the decision to use marijuana, it's usually completely unassociated with the knowledge of the punishment associated with that use."
Irwin also emphasized the bipartisan support for the bill from throughout the state.
"It's an opportunity to bring people together based on sensible, sober policies on marijuana use."
The bill is expected to be assigned to a committee in the near future, and Irwin is hopeful.
"I don't want to be sanguine about how difficult it will be to pass this, but I do think it's the right thing to do."
-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom
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