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City Charter to 'decriminalize GR' hits another delay

City Manager Greg Sundstrom has delayed the Charter amendment to decriminalize marijuana in Grand Rapids.
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The City charter amendment to decriminalize marijuana in Grand Rapids that was approved by Grand Rapids voters last November has been delayed.

A press release issued by the city last week states “City Manager Greg Sundstrom reports that the City will await the decision of Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan to clarify the legality of the recent City Charter amendment approved by voters.”

The delay is another in a series since the amendment was approved by nearly 60% of voters in the November 6, 2012 general election.

On November 30, 2012 the Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth filed a lawsuit, challenging the amendment. On December 4, 2012 Kent County Circuit Court granted a Temporary Restraining Order that blocked the city from enacting the charter amendment that was met with protests by supporters of the amendment. On January 23, Judge Sullivan lifted the restraining order until a final decision is made regarding Forsysth’s lawsuit on April 24.

Jack Hoffman, the attorney for DecriminalizeGR, the organization responsible for putting the initiative on the ballot, believes this action goes directly against the statement the citizens of Grand Rapids made at the polls last year. In addition to the majority of voters supporting the initiative, it is supported by community leaders and advocates

The elected City Commission has the power to implement the charter, but it’s the City Manager, who is hired by the Commission, that ultimately has the power to order the Police Department regarding changes to existing laws.

 “Why did we go through that entire process just have it switched?” Hoffman says. “The city has been cooperative with DCGR to implement the charter amendment and the city manager is ignoring 60% of the people’s vote.”

According to the media release, Sundstrom insists “he has a very clear direction from the City Commission to respect the outcome of the ballot proposal and implement the City Charter amendment at the earliest opportunity.” As a result, the City Manager has drafted an executive order for Grand Rapids Police to issue civil infraction tickets for marijuana offenses but will not issue the order until Circuit Court has ruled the amendment complies with Michigan State law. Hoffman, however, remains skeptical. 

“[The case could] drag out over the course of two-three years” with appeals, says Hoffman. Even if Circuit Court rules the amendment is legal, Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth can still counter with an appeal which could delay implementation even more.

“Is Greg Sundstrom not going to implement the rules if it drags out?” he says.

Despite the setbacks Hoffman remains optimistic the charter will be implemented in the future.

“I never intended to be in a lawsuit," says Hoffman, "but I’m going to stick by them to the end.”

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