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Posted on Wed, May 15, 2013 : 3:11 p.m.

Ann Arbor remains a thriving community decades after decriminalizing marijuana

By Ryan J. Stanton

Larry Gabriel, former editor of Metro Times, writes in a new column that Ann Arbor is "a showplace for the state" and "a place that marijuana activists look to with a gleam in their eyes."

He notes Ann Arbor remains a thriving community — atop a listing of Michigan "Hot Spots" on the Pure Michigan website — long after it decriminalized marijuana in the 1970s.

"With the University of Michigan, the U-M hospital, the annual art fair, a popping downtown and plenty of people walking the neighborhoods, an abundance of jobs and a low crime rate, Ann Arbor is the kind of place that lots of cities would like to be," Gabriel writes.

As more and more cities in Michigan move to soften the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, and as state lawmakers consider legislation introduced by state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, to decriminalize marijuana statewide, Gabriel points to Ann Arbor as an example of a place that "has not gone to hell since sanctions against the evil weed were lowered."


"With the University of Michigan, the U-M hospital, the annual art fair, a popping downtown and plenty of people walking the neighborhoods, an abundance of jobs and a low crime rate, Ann Arbor is the kind of place that lots of cities would like to be," Gabriel writes.

Ryan J. Stanton | file photo

"Maybe there's something in trying to embrace Ann Arbor's uniqueness," he concludes.

The Ann Arbor City Council in the 1970s reduced the city penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a $5 civil infraction, essentially decriminalizing weed in Ann Arbor. That remains the case today, except it's now a $25 ticket for first offenses.

Following Ann Arbor's model, Irwin announced legislation on April 24 that would make the possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana a civil infraction rather than a crime throughout Michigan.

Irwin's legislation, House Bill 4623, is co-sponsored by a mix of Republican and Democratic state lawmakers, including Mike Callton, Rose Mary C. Robinson, Phil Cavanagh, Mike Shirkey, Jon Switalski and Marcia Hovey-Wright.

But whether Irwin's bill will get a vote on the House floor remains to be seen. Ari Adler, a spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, told MLive the House GOP has other priorities right now, but the leadership is not ruling out an eventual debate on decriminalizing marijuana.

"It will go through the committee process, but we're not going to close the door on having the discussion," Adler said. "There are a lot of important issues that we have to deal with first."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


E Claire

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 6:24 p.m.

Marijuana illegal? All this time I just though it was undocumented.

Robert Granville

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 1:56 p.m.

Decriminalization is merely a small step in the right direction. Under decrim, pot is still expected to appear magically. There is no provision for local production or sale, thus the black market economy for marijuana is entirely unaffected. Police will continue to poorly allocate resources and will pursue anyone who steps outside of the limited 1oz allowed amount. In fact, when I was 19 I was arrested, prosecuted and convicted in a (up to 100 gram) decrim state. Despite the decrim law, I spent a short time in jail, was forced to withdraw from my lib arts college, lost federal financial aid for 2 years and permanently carry a felony criminal record... all for selling 3.5 grams of marijuana. I did it.... there's no arguing that. Does it serve anyone's best interests for me to be almost completely incapable of realizing my potential as a student, citizen, taxpayer as a result? 5 years later? Should we be condemning students who make mistakes to a life as part of the criminal underclass? Obviously I don't think so... but that is where I find myself. A 3.5 college student who earned a National Merit scholarship as a high schooler.... now taking community college classes.. an unemployed felon hoping that someday someone will look past the conviction and see potential. This is decrim.


Thu, May 16, 2013 : 3:17 a.m.

"Drugs are bad, Mkay" - Mr. Mackey


Thu, May 16, 2013 : 1:48 a.m.

Put it to vote! By the people for the people.

E Claire

Fri, May 24, 2013 : 6:53 p.m.

How do you know that I/we don't?


Thu, May 16, 2013 : 8:20 p.m.

E Claire - then you should be lobbying for it.

E Claire

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 6:27 p.m.

Get past your steroetypes. I and my republican friends all smoke and all agree it should be legal. We all have good jobs too...


Thu, May 16, 2013 : 12:30 p.m.

Republicans would never take that chance

Homeland Conspiracy

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 2:14 a.m.

Lately the will of the people doesn't matter...


Thu, May 16, 2013 : 12:41 a.m.

I am a nurse, a social moderate, and a fiscal conservative. I do not and have never used drugs, nor do I advocate that anyone does. Having said that, I think the war on drugs is a joke and a huge waste of money. We are never going to stop the production and use of something that people are willing to pay money for no matter what laws we enact to make them "illegal." I don't understand why prohibition lasted for such a short time, yet the "war on drugs" drags unsuccessfully on. Why then does our bankrupt government spend money it doesn't have to hunt down, try, convict, and lock up these people? "Illegal" drugs are well documented to be readily available IN the penal system. Rather than throw good money after bad, how much the better to decriminalize (small amounts) of all drugs, set up regulated dispensaries, and collect sales/use tax on these products? You would in one fell swoop bankrupt the gangs and drug cartels (if domestic farmers/pharma companies were allowed to produce the products) by taking away their product and customer, bring the people using these out of and away from the "dark underworld," create a new source of revenue, and reduce the strain on the criminal justice/penal system. Furthermore, legalizing these drugs will not give the "OK" to anyone to go out and start using them anymore than the fact of cigarettes being legal or marijuana dispensaries have persuaded me or anyone else uninterested in using these products to go out and light up.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 9:28 p.m.

I asked Irwin today about his expectations for getting a hearing on his bill. Here's what he told me: "I've reached out to the committee chair and requested that we formally consider the issue. He has indicated that our dance card is full until summer but that he will consider having a hearing in the fall. He also indicated that consideration of the provisioning center bill — HB 4271 — is first in line. That hearing will likely happen in the next couple of weeks so there is a willingness to discuss these types of issues. The Chair of the Judiciary committee is Kevin Cotter from Mt Pleasant. The broader House leadership, especially Rep. Jase Bolger has been relatively positive."

David Briegel

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 9:27 p.m.

Decriminalization is the only answer. Keep all law enforcement and government out of the marijuana business. It has been too good for them and too bad for the rest of our society.


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 8:03 p.m.

Want the war on drugs to stop? How about we get rid of the stereotypes that all marijuana users are unemployed slackers with no future? That one stereotype has a TON of people ignorantly labeling and blaming marijuana users, and Getting kinda tired of are my engineer friends....and artist friends.....and police officer friends...and EMT friends...parents who are friends......yeah they all use marijuana and they all have steady jobs, pay their debts, pay their taxes, don't break the law (outside of using a plant), and are in general NICE people. They're all sick of this stupid stereotype too. There's this perception that if you use marijuana you're less intelligent, lazy, and directionless. YES I know some people that are like that, but MOST people I know who use marijuana do not fit into that stereotype at all and in fact exude the opposite qualities...all positive.

An Arborigine

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 7:57 p.m.

It has accomplished one thing among petty drug offenders...fostered a lasting distrust and dislike of law enforcement, our courts and the legal system in general. If that was the goal, mission accomplished!


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 7:56 p.m.

Legalize it. Hopefully, the wedge issue in 2016.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 7:32 p.m.

I'm not entirely sure how the number was calculated, but this was what Jeff Irwin stated upon introducing his legislation: "Michigan spends an estimated $326 million a year on arresting, trying and imprisoning people for marijuana offenses. Yet such policies have proven remarkably ineffective in achieving their purpose of preventing marijuana use."

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 9:31 p.m.

Irwin tells me this figure is from an MSU study from a few years ago. "Since police agencies collect their data in different ways and on different systems, and because they tend to release data after a few years, it can be very hard to estimate these costs," he said. "In general, the study team took court filings and jail/arrest records and developed a percentage of the cases/arrests that related to marijuana. Then they applied that percentage to the publicly available data on court/police/jail expenses. The 325M figure, I think, is a very conservative one. The study is a few years old and it is based on data from a few years before that. That will serve to understimate the costs."


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 7:24 p.m.

We have spent hundreds of billions on the "war on drugs". They are more availabe than ever, have made drug lords so rich they have threatened countries governments, put incredible ammounts of our citizens in jails, tied up our court system and made it hard for those convicted to get decent jobs for the rest of their life. By any measure you can come up with the war on dugs has failed hugely. It is time to try something else.