Supporters of Proposal 1 say legalization of recreational marijuana will take the burden of enforcement away from police, who can direct resources to other crime fighting.

Opponents say legalization has been an added headache for police elsewhere, including creating a bigger black market.

How much time and treasure is being expended to arrest Michigan citizens for marijuana possession? And is it worth it?

A report from the American Civil Liberties Union found that in 2010 Michigan spent $91.4 million in arresting people for marijuana possession.

In 2015 Michigan had 23,893 arrests for marijuana-related crimes, with 64 percent for possession. The pot busts accounted for 58 percent of all drug arrests, and 9 percent of all arrests.

In 2015, Berrien County had 871 marijuana-related arrests, with 90 percent for possession or use. Marijuana accounted for 80 percent of all the county’s drug arrests and 17 percent of all arrests.

Of the arrests, 749 were for possession; 31 for use; 54 for selling; 27 for producing; and none for smuggling. The county had one of the highest marijuana arrest rates per 1,000 residents, at 5.63, around double the state average, according to figures published by MLive.

In that year, Cass County had 40 marijuana-related arrests, with 70 percent for possession. Van Buren County had 289 marijuana arrests, with 89 percent for possession or use.

In 2017, 131 marijuana arrests occurred in Benton Harbor; 101 in Niles; 98 in Benton Township; 60 in Lake Township; 46 in Bridgman; and 43 in St. Joseph.

Possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year incarceration and a $2,000 fine, while using is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $100 fine. If possession is in a public park, the sentence is a maximum two years and a $2,000 fine.

Arrests for minor possession can also include a driver’s license suspension, and can bar residents from receiving student loans or some jobs.

Proponents of Proposal 1 claim that these efforts have done nothing to reduce the use of marijuana in the state and across the country.

Proposal 1 does not include language allowing for expungement of criminal records for previous marijuana arrests. Seeking changes to two laws in one ballot issue could have led to court challenges. 

Studies show that black residents are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, though they consume pot at the same rate.

Proponents argue that police could be putting their time and resources to better use than arresting citizens for minor marijuana possession.

A study by Human Rights Watch found that in 2015 Michigan had 11,916 arrests for violent crimes, compared to more than twice as many marijuana arrests. Nationally, there were 14 percent more arrests for simple marijuana possession than for murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault combined.

In 2010, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated that the cost of enforcing the prohibition of marijuana was $347.1 million in state and local resources in Michigan.

Proponents and opponents disagree on whether marijuana legalization increases crime and vehicle accidents.

Denver’s annual 2018 Marijuana Report showed that while retail sales in the Mile High City spiked by 29 percent from 2016 to 2017, the number of marijuana-related crimes decreased from 293 in 2014 to 199 in 2017. Marijuana-related crimes accounted for 0.3 percent of all crimes, compared to 0.42 percent in 2016.

The city’s arrests for public consumption of marijuana in 2017 were about one-third of what they were in 2014. Only eight violent crimes were related to marijuana, out of 615 total for the year. Arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana were flat, with 66 in 2014 and 63 in 2017.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock attributed the drop in marijuana crimes in his city to the coordinated efforts of the city’s safety departments, licensing agencies and other offices. Denver’s marijuana industry has more than 1,100 licenses operating in around 500 locations.

Washington State University researchers found that in that state and Colorado, following pot legalization, police clearance rates for violent crimes, property crimes, burglary and motor vehicle theft improved, while arrest rates for marijuana possession went down.

Denver did see big jumps in arrests for unlawful possession and cultivation. Law enforcement officials say they are seeing cartels from China, Mexico and Cuba setting up grow operations in states with legalization, and then shipping the product out. A raid in Sacramento, Calif., uncovered illegal grow sites in 74 houses.

Crashing

The National Academies found evidence of a relationship between marijuana use and an increased risk of car crashes. The most comprehensive one they looked at showed a 20 to 30 percent relative increase (a “low to medium magnitude” change, according to the report) in car crashes associated with short-term cannabis use. 

A study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that insurance collision claims increased by 3 percent in states that legalized marijuana.

However, another study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that fatal car accidents were not more frequent in Washington and Colorado than in similar states without legal recreational marijuana, and another study even found a decrease in the number of people killed in car accidents in states that legalized medical marijuana. 

A 2015 report from the Colorado Police Foundation and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police found a number of issues arising from legalization, from enforcement to safety for officers.

“Establishing partnerships with city agencies, such as code enforcement, building inspectors, fire, and zoning is currently one of the best strategies in addressing the problems,” the report recommended. “Local ordinances addressing neighborhood complaints, such as noxious odors, building and code violations, and land use codes, have been found to be effective in regulating non-commercial marijuana cultivation.”

The organization recommended developing a “legislative and statewide funding plan before the measure passes and be ready to make the case for proper enforcement in the name of public safety.”

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak