Low-Level Weed Cases Not A Priority, Michigan's Top Prosecutors Say

By Keri Blakinger 11/12/18

Michigan voters approved a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana last week.

lawyer touches the scales of justice for marijuana cases

On the heels of a successful ballot measure that legalized recreational weed in Michigan, prosecutors last week put out a statement clarifying that cannabis is still illegal on a federal level—but they won’t make weed cases a priority. 

“Marijuana continues to be an illegal drug under federal law,” Matthew Schneider and Andrew Birge, U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern and Western Districts of Michigan, wrote in a statement Thursday, according to the Detroit Free Press. “Because we have taken oaths to protect and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States, we will not unilaterally immunize anyone from prosecution for violating federal laws simply because of the passage of Proposal One.”

But—following the lead of federal prosecutors elsewhere—the duo said they wouldn’t make throwing resources at marijuana enforcement a priority. 

“Our offices have never focused on the prosecution of marijuana users or low-level offenders, unless aggravating factors are present,” the federal prosecutors said. “That will not change.”

The factors that could pique federal interest in a given case include everything from the involvement of other illegal drugs to suspects’ past criminal records, and from the use of guns to the possibility of environmental contamination. 

The ballot measure approved by 56% of Michigan voters last Tuesday will allow adults over 21 to grow and use weed legally. It will take effect 10 days after the vote is certified.

“The Proposal 1 campaign boiled down into one of fact versus fear,” Josh Hovey, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said according to Forbes. “The data from the nine other states to have legalized marijuana made clear that regulation and taxation are a better solution. Legalization of marijuana will end the unnecessary waste of law enforcement resources used to enforce the failed policy of prohibition while generating hundreds of millions of dollars each year for Michigan’s most important needs.”

But, while Michiganders greenlit legal pot on Tuesday, the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions a day later created some uncertainty about the future of the nation’s marijuana enforcement policies. 

Although Sessions was no friend to marijuana reformers, he did clarify earlier this year that he was not interested in pursuing small-time weed cases due to a lack of resources for low-level crimes.

It’s not clear what a new attorney general might mean for federal approaches to pot. 

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.