GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — At least 100 people showed up to protest outside of Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth’s office Thursday in downtown Grand Rapids.
Forsyth has taken the City of Grand Rapids to court to stop the implementation of an amendment to the city charter that decriminalizes marijuana within the city. The amendment passed with 58% of the vote in November.
“I’m baffled why Mr. Forsyth would even do something like this,” said Tim Beck, a supporter of the amendment, who came all the way from Ann Arbor. He has helped to organize successful ballot proposals and measures in Flint, Detroit, and other cities.
“I’m here because to show my support for the democratic process period,” he said. “There’s no good reason in my mind for this type of legal challenge.”
“I didn’t file this without giving this a lot of thought,” said Forsyth. “Had they done what they did in Flint and Detroit, these people wouldn’t be out in front and I wouldn’t have filed a lawsuit.” Forsyth said several times that if the Grand Rapids proposal was similar to that which was on the ballot in Detroit or Flint, he likely would not have fought it.
Beck acknowledges there are differences between the measure that voters passed in Detroit and what’s happening in Grand Rapids. The ordinances elsewhere allowed for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana on private property. “But, that’s not what we tried to do here,” said Forsyth.
Mike Dunn, associate professor at Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids, agrees with the legal assessment that the language could spell trouble for the amendment. Simply decriminalizing marijuana “is really violating the state laws in Michigan, and that’s why I think we have a drafting error here,” said Dunn. “When you really break down that language in Detroit’s law, it reads, ‘Adults 21 years of age are ‘exempt from prosecution.’ That’s very different from the Grand Rapids amendment, which reads, “decriminalizes possession, control use or gift of marijuana.’”
“I knew it would generate a lot of angst and upset some people, and it probably has,” said Forsyth. “The state law, in my mind, is very clear: Aa city like Grand Rapids can’t pass a law that makes a civil infraction of a violation of the drug law, and that’s exactly what they tried to do here.”
Forsyth is also bothered by the absence of restrictions in the Grand Rapids law, although he said it has nothing to do with a violation of state law. He personally feels those restrictions need to be there. “One of the things I might add,” he said, “you have to be over a certain age to possess it. You can only possess a small amount of it on private property. We have none of those restrictions.”
Some protesters feel that although there may be a language issue, the people have spoken. “Here in Grand Rapids the people have voted,” said Chuck Ream. “They made themselves clear. It’s not a complicated issue and the government should do what the people tell them to do if we have a democracy.”
Though Forsyth said he has gotten a lot of calls from residents unhappy that he is not following the will of the people, he said he has a higher law to uphold.
“My job is not to uphold the will of the people. My job is to uphold the law of the state of Michigan.”