The city is considering a broad collection of ordinances to restrict marijuana users.
In November, Michigan voters passed Proposal 1, which legalizes recreational use of marijuana – in the state’s eyes, at least. More than 57 percent of City of Saline voters approved the proposal.
Since then, members of city council have spent many hours on marijuana-related concerns. Council banned commercial recreational marijuana businesses. It set up a study group to look at the possibility of medical marijuana dispensaries.
Monday night, city council sat down with City Attorney Roger Swets and Police Chief Jerrod Hart to talk about the stance the city should take with recreational marijuana. Previously, some members of council had expressed interest in prohibiting the public consumption of marijuana, whether in businesses, on city sidewalks, in parks or at public festivals. Another area for action is drug paraphernalia. The city can’t prevent adults, 21 and older, from legal possession marijuana-related accessories. But it could make it paraphernalia possession illegal for those under 21. It could also regulate the stores that sell marijuana paraphernalia.
There are several reasons why city council is considering such a package of ordinances. For one, while countless publications have reported public consumption will be illegal, Swets isn’t so sure. The language says the act does not authorize public consumption of marijuana. But “not authorize” doesn’t necessarily mean “prohibit.” It’s one of several vague areas of the act that could lead to court challenges, Swets said.
Swets said Michigan’s public health code makes it illegal to use or possess marijuana, but questioned if the code was valid now that laws permit possession of marijuana.
“So the question is, do you want a fall back? One would hope the legislature will clarify this. But at this point, I’m not aware of a clear path to get there at the state level,” Swets told council.
Police Chief Hart told council the omnibus package of ordinances was a great way to “lock in a position as a community and give police clear direction.” Specifically, Hart wants to see marijuana treated like alcohol.
“I look at parity with how we treat alcohol. Nobody walks down the street with an open container of alcohol. So, I would like police officers awarded the same opportunity for enforcement action,” Hart said.
Hart wants to see violators penalized with misdemeanor offenses instead of civil infractions. Misdemeanors give officers the right to arrest someone violating the code. Civil infractions allow for tickets and fines. Hart said without the power of arrest, it may be difficult to enforce a public consumption prohibition.
Council had questions for Hart and Swets.
Councillor Janet Dillon asked if a public ban would apply to all consumption – including edibles. While enforcing a ban on edibles may present more challenges, it would likely prevent all marijuana consumption, Swets said.
Councillor Christen Mitchell said that while she’s personally opposed to all smoking in public, she had concerns with a public ban.
“What if a cancer patient comes to one of our festivals and needs to have a treatment? How would that be enforced?” Mitchell asked.
Hart said his police officers will judge every situation by the circumstance. He said he was confident his officers could gain compliance without an arrest in such a scenario.
Mitchell said she would likely be opposed to a ban on smoking, but not edibles.
Council, as a whole, seems supportive of the omnibus approach favored by Chief Hart.
“It seems to be all-encompassing and should make things clear for everyone,” Councillor Janet Dillon said.
Mayor Brian Marl asked members of council to continue providing feedback to Swets and Hart over the next two weeks. The issue should appear as a discussion item at the March 18 meeting.