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Posted on Thu, May 17, 2012 : 11:58 a.m.

It's a real dilemma for cops when it comes to enforcing marijuana laws

By Rich Kinsey

Police work is not as easy as one might think. After college and the police academy, I was pretty brain damaged and thought that things were black or white. They were right or wrong, either against the law or lawful. WRONG!

The best police officers operate in the gray shades of human existence. Those officers enforce the law — not the letter of the law — but an interpretation based on decency, fairness, humanity and what in their view keeps the public safe.


A protester holds up a sign at the 2011 Hash Bash on the Diag at the University of Michigan urging the legalization of marijuana. Would we be better off legalizing and taxing the drug?

Steve Pepple |

For instance, I am a big advocate of wearing seatbelts, so I would be apt to give violators tickets for noncompliance. My personal threshold for “writing” speeders was 15 mph over the limit. Others officers write at 10 over or eight over, and one trooper policing US-2 in the Upper Peninsula is writing tickets for five over the limit for violators with cars equipped with cruise control — yikes that’s harsh.

Nowhere in the law am I more conflicted and confused than with marijuana. A funny thing happened during the nearly 30 years of my police adventure. Since 1982, alcohol has been demonized in our society, while marijuana is becoming more accepted.

Having policed Ann Arbor and being used to a $5 fine for marijuana use — later changed to a $25 fine, I was conflicted for a while until the police command staff made enforcement decisions very easy.

For most officers, the $5 fine for possession of marijuana was not worth writing. To write the $5 ticket it took an officer the time to write the ticket, drive to the station and log the baggy or joint into evidence and hand the paperwork into command. This was probably a 45-minute transaction for the officer.

Factor in the time it took for the property officer to catalogue, store, then some day dispose of the contraband properly and the time it took the court staff to process the $5 ticket, it seemed a ridiculous waste of time. We officers felt we should be out doing “real police work” instead of bothering with $5 weed tickets.

When citizens of this state voted for the law — yours truly included — we visualized Grandma Smedley getting some measure of relief for her cancer therapy chemo or glaucoma by firing up a doobie, ripping on a bong or eating a few THC laden brownies.

That is why back then a lot of individual marijuana cigarettes or “joints” as well as small baggies wound up scraped on the pavement under a combat boot, dropped down storm sewers or blown to the four winds of heaven in what used to be called “wind testing” the green leafy substance. In those cases no violation was issued, but the dope was destroyed.

That happened until an officer brought an arrestee in on a serious crime, found a joint or two in his pocket and flushed the marijuana down the toilet in police lock up. Well this crook sitting in jail had time to think about this and became morally outraged by the incident.

Once out of jail, the prisoner turned “victim” of officer’s “shortcut” made a complaint with the Ann Arbor Police Department. This fellow alleged that the Ann Arbor Police Department might be flushing all the joints in the city into the sewer system and then in a carefully choreographed conspiracy with the workers at the wastewater plant re-harvesting the marijuana and perhaps selling it on the streets.

OK, point well taken. Destruction of evidence turned into big time discipline for that officer and command sent the message that it was not right, it would not be tolerated and if you “wind tested” or flushed any more reefer you could be severely disciplined up to termination. Roger, 10-4, easy to understand. Take the time and do it right or face the consequences. It was really easy and clear to me then.

Now the lines on marijuana are really fuzzy for officers. Officers find now that it is easier for a teenager to buy a “nickel” or “dime” — $5 or $10 that is — bag of weed in and around school than it is to get a six-pack of beer from their old man’s fridge or get an adult to buy them beer.

The Michigan Medical Marijuana Law has really muddied the waters on enforcement for officers. When citizens of this state voted for the law — yours truly included — we visualized Grandma Smedley getting some measure of relief for her cancer therapy chemo or glaucoma by firing up a doobie, ripping on a bong or eating a few THC laden brownies.

What we voters had not envisioned was the “epidemic” of 18-year-old “wake and bakers” suffering from every malady from hangnails to hemorrhoids in order to find some quack to “prescribe” them “medications” with such colorful names as: Trainwreck, Grape Ape, White Widow, Purple Erkle, L.A. Confidential, Blue Dragon, Jack the Ripper, Sweetie Pie or Mr. Magic.

Twenty years ago, an officer would have never dreamed of taking a theft report of marijuana. Unless it was an armed robbery or homicide over dope, it was just not often listed as “stolen property” in a police report. Now officers are taking larceny reports of medical marijuana —though most are not exhausting every investigative resource to recover the “patient’s” “medicine.”

On the other hand most officers will tell you they have had more fights with drunks than the more docile, less ambitious burnt out dope smokers. That is as long as we are talking about marijuana only and not “blunts” laced with other drugs like PCP, crack or meth. In cases where it is mixed, officers can have their hands filled.

For those who will blog that marijuana is just a victimless substance that has been around for 10,000 years — save it. Ask the people who live in the southern border states if marijuana is a harmless, victimless recreational drug.

People die everyday to get the recreational users their little baggy because the baggy comes from a larger bag, which came from a bale, which was smuggled after it was harvested from a well-guarded field. Lots of money changed hands between there and Ann Arbor. Each time money changed hands, there was an opportunity for someone to get greedy and someone else to get hurt or killed.

Most officers handle marijuana on a case-by-case basis. Pounds and dealers get prosecuted, while individual joints, roaches and shake may be “overlooked.” Most officers are as conflicted as I am.

Therefore if you ask me if we should just legalize marijuana and be done with it — or — keep fighting the fight and crack down on dispensaries, dealers and the disruptive influence of the evil weed — my answer is unequivocally and without hesitation — YES!

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for He also serves as the Crime Stoppers coordinator for Washtenaw County.



Fri, May 18, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

The vast majority of marijuana in the United States is grown in.....wait for it... in the United States, mostly in Kentucky. This has been true for over ten years at least, and the trend continues to grow away from Mexico-supplied marijuana. I understand being ignorant on the subject, but not writing an article based on that ignorance, propogating false information.

Laurie Lo

Fri, May 18, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

Thank you for speaking openly on this topic. Sorry to see you're getting bashed for using hyperbole. Some people don't get hyperbole and unfortunately, in their ignorance, take your words literally. I am surmising that when you referred to it "not being worth" writing a five dollar ticket, you weren't suggesting that all tickets have to be revenue generators. I think you were saying that, given the nature of the offense - smoking a joint - the crime didn't fit the punishment, or any punishment. But I would like to address the revenue generating aspects of ticketing in Ann Arbor, and in the state of Michigan. A teen in Ann Arbor will likely not get a ticket for having a joint - but a 20-year-old college student standing on her own front porch drinking a beer will get a very, very costly ticket for being a minor in possession, and will be required to serve 50 hours of community work while trying to hold down a part time job, attend rigorous classes at UM and study. When minors get ticketed for MIP in Michigan, they have no rights. The student I'm referring to tossed her beer, wasn't even given a breath test, and was ticketed for being a minor in possession because, as the Ann Arbor cop put it, her body was a vessel and she had beer in it. I know of another minor who was at a private party and was ticketed with MIP when the cops were called about a noise violation. The party was a college graduation party and the parents hired a band for the event. Then minor - again, a 20-year-old - was not given any breath test rights, was handcuffed (she was a 5 foot tall girl weighing 95 pounds), thrown in jail and not released until the following morning. Bail was $100, the ticket and court costs were upwards of $300, and the lawyer fee was $600, all to no avail. Ticketing for MIP when the "minor" is essentially a grown adult is done purely for the pursuit of money. When I was 18, it was legal to drink in Michigan. It should be again.

Peter Konigsberg

Fri, May 18, 2012 : 12:15 p.m.

The drug laws are used to persecute minorities and immigrants while the vast majority of white people who use drugs are not arrested. Not to mention that the banking institutions are the reason the drug trade continues. When was the last time a banker went to jail for life for laundering drug money? If the money stopped getting to the cartels the supply would dry up over night. This is the dirty little secret that police don't speak about, they don't have a mandate to arrest white collar money launderers. Just street level dealers who are replaced as fast as they are arrested. Why? because no one has stopped the money returning to the cartels. As long as hundreds of tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana arrive on our shores some one will sell it for the profits. We need to focus on the people who by laundering the money thru banks continue to make this business possible. After several bankers get life in Federal prison my guess is the rest of them will see the punishment is not worth the risk. This would have a major impact on their operations unlike arresting small distributors and dealers who are replace immediately. The "war" on drug has only made the cartels billionaires and turned this country into a police state nothing more. You are on the wrong side of history sir.

Hesh Breakstone

Fri, May 18, 2012 : 10:52 a.m.

I appreciate Mr./Officer Kinsey's experience and his remarks and would also like to thank him for his very valued service over the years. As others have mentioned America's war on drugs has been a dismal, multi-trillion dollar failure that has resulted in the incarceration of up to 1,000,000 Americans for non-violent crimes in connection with pot possession and use.... If pot was decriminalized our southern border and the crime that exists there today would likely improve as pot could be produced stateside also providing perhaps tens of thousands of jobs for Americans.... It is the prohibition of marijuana that creates the crimes associated with marijuana not any inherent harmfulness from the substance itself... As such Kinsey's assertion that pot creates the crime on our southern border (northern as well by the way... just not typically violent crime but massive smuggling...) is in error. Instead America's wrongful prohibition of pot is the real culprit... Additionally the 18 year old wake and bakers - how many young folks even in high school abuse alcohol AND how many are seriously injured or worse... every year from drinking? Does this fact in and of itself mean that booze should be illegal? I think not but it has resulted in our efforts to regulate same as we have for many years. This is what needs to be done with pot too - decriminalize it, regulate it, tax it and use the revenue to fund schools AND law enforcement as well. Again many thanks to officer Kinsey for his very valued service!


Fri, May 18, 2012 : 10:24 a.m.

I am speechless. Kinsey, you make no arguments that are clearly defined here. You advocate for legalization while also you advocate for targeting the places where people purchase medicine. I would suggest writing composition 101. WCC has a pretty good program.

Linda Peck

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

If by saying "yes" you mean legalize it, I so agree. Enough already. We need the police to handle important matters. Leave the marijuana and the marijuana users alone! It is a weed! Don't tax it. I eat dandelions, and I sure hope nobody is going to tax my back yard!

Ann English

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 11:45 p.m.

Maybe you and some of the other comment posters know something about all the signs popping up in the last week regarding "Having trouble getting your medical marijuana license?"


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 6:54 p.m.

It's so nice to see so many of the people who comment here actually agreeing on something. Legalization, the first of many bi-partisan causes!


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 6:52 p.m.

" Ask the people who live in the southern border states if marijuana is a harmless, victimless recreational drug." I think anyone who has ever smoked pot in Ann Arbor would tell you that mexican ditch weed isn't real popular in these parts. Or at least in my day it wasn't. Those people south of the border who are being victimized aren't being victimized by a drug so much as by an illegal trade only made possible by overzealous paramilitary style law enforcement.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 6:48 p.m.

"For those who will blog that marijuana is just a victimless substance that has been around for 10,000 years — save it. Ask the people who live in the southern border states if marijuana is a harmless, victimless recreational drug." The only reason this is remotely true is BECAUSE of the prohibition. it should not be used as an argument to continue it, but rather to end it.

rusty shackelford

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 6:44 p.m.

I make no claims about Kinsey, but in my experience the decision by cops over whether to enforce marijuana laws is pretty straightforward. Usually, it goes like this: is the suspect black or Latino? Enforce. Is the suspect white? Not worth the trouble.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 6:53 p.m.

This. Why is it that all the marijuana busts I read about happen over in Ypsi, and it's *always* some poor dumb kid getting nailed for intent to distribute with an ounce in his car.

Frank Lee

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 6:39 p.m.

I agree that full legalization would solve far more problems than it would create. The grey area of current medical marijuana law and proper enforcement have driven some local communities to disregard the law all together. Copy and paste the following link into your browser to read the full article "Clinton adopts ordinance to prohibit use of medical marijuana with unanimous vote"


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 6:36 p.m.

This commentary was peppered with ludicrous characterizations of individuals who smoke marijuana. No mention of the individuals who drink alcohol because their wives are cheating, they are terrible at their jobs, and their children hate them. No, pot smokers are "docile, less ambitious and burnt out." Thanks for your comments officer. PS It's not clear what's being said here: "Therefore if you ask me if we should just legalize marijuana and be done with it — or — keep fighting the fight and crack down on dispensaries, dealers and the disruptive influence of the evil weed — my answer is unequivocally and without hesitation — YES!" So, does that mean we should do both? You'll have to excuse me, I'm a little docile and burnt out at the moment.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

I know a lot of people who lost their jobs during this last recession who were able to survive by growing and selling illegal pot. Now I think of marijuana as the social safety net our jerky republican politicians refuse to provide people.

Some Guy in 734

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

Rich-- Article 333.26423 Definitions part 1 is pretty specific about the conditions that qualify for medical marijuana. Neither hemorrhoids nor hangnails are on that list. If you didn't know that, then why should anyone take your commentary seriously? If you did know that, then why are you deliberately misleading readers?


Sat, May 19, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

I have no idea how you couldn't tell he was being sarcastic to show that tons of people are trying to get marijuana cards for bogus maladies. Police officers can have a sense of humor, ya know.

Robert Granville

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 3:43 p.m.

"Sure drugs cause crime, like forks cause obesity" - Law Enforcement Against Prohibition


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

1. Alcohol is not demonized in our society 2. Police corruption by way of taking evidence (drugs, money, weapons) is a real, documented occurrence. 3. The police, as an institution, enforce drug laws unequally across the population, and in particular are harsher to minorities [a] 4. If you think doctors are quacks, you should probably back that up. That's a serious accusation you've put into print. a.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

Question for you Mr. Kinsey... To which were you unequivocally stating YES to?

Billy Bob Schwartz

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

I read it as humorously saying we need to do one or the other, but not let it keep drifting along as it is.

Gersh Avery

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 1:14 p.m.

"For those who will blog that marijuana is just a victimless substance that has been around for 10,000 years — save it. Ask the people who live in the southern border states if marijuana is a harmless victimless recreation drug. " We simply MUST stop forcing our citizens to purchase their recreation from Mexico ..


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 1:13 p.m.

"For most officers, the $5 fine for possession of marijuana was not worth writing. To write the $5 ticket it took an officer the time to write the ticket, drive to the station and log the baggy or joint into evidence and hand the paperwork into command. This was probably a 45-minute transaction for the officer." Of course it has nothing to do with serving and protecting. It has to do with revenue generation.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 6:50 p.m.

the whole reason for the small fine is to make it not worth the officer's time. The idea is to make them feel they have better things to do.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 5:55 p.m.

How is using an officer for 45 minutes to fine someone $25 going to be generating revenue? Sounds like a pretty poor money maker. Subtract the cost of an officer from the fine, and where's the profit?

Robert Granville

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 3:45 p.m.

They also realized that writing that $5 ticket doesn't protect anyone... or doing anything of worth.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 1:11 p.m.

Drug is still a drug. Solution to said problem is to legalize it and lock it up in a pharmacy with the rest of the drugs. Strict regulations should be put in place. No more Mom-Pop doobie joints. People who are in true pain will follow the laws. No more medical MJ cards. Prescription in hand for a certain amount and when you run out guess what have to see the doctor again and pay the piper. Thus stopping people from giving away there weed to friends.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 1:45 p.m.

Along with caffeinated soda and coffee? Good luck!


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.

This idea has a lot of holes in it.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 1 p.m.

Good article. We know we are close to legalization when more and more law enforcement officers come out for it. Now if we could get the people that makes the laws to not be so shortsighted/afraid of social conservatives.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 12:56 p.m. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP envisions a world in which drug policies work for the benefit of society and keep our communities safer. A system of legalization and regulation will end the violence, better protect human rights, safeguard our children, reduce crime and disease, treat drug abusers as patients, reduce addiction, use tax dollars more efficiently, and restore the public's respect and trust in law enforcement.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 12:52 p.m.

It is a problem in border states ONLY because of prohibition. I have yet to see a "gangland" type drive by shooting at a dispensary.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 12:49 p.m.

The prohibitionist claims, "there are people dying every day in the Mexican Civil War and the potheads are responsible! If they just didn't send them their money there would be no cartels!" The cannabis law reform advocate responds, "it would be much easier to re-legalize cannabis and promote regulated and taxed domestic production. Mexican cartel cannabis is garbage. Why in the world would we import cheap muscatel when we can grow all the Dom Perignon our hearts desire right in our own backyards?" The prohibitionist responds, "It wouldn't matter! Those criminals would just start committing other crimes, make just as much money and be just as violent!"

Chase Ingersoll

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 12:34 p.m.

The marijuana issue is so multifaceted and very interesting to watch in terms of the interaction between people on the same side of the issue and people on different sides of the issue. It's also interesting to watch in terms of how people adapt their positions based upon new information and experiences.

David Johnson

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 12:21 p.m.

Rich, Thank you for a well-written article and your historical perspective. I believe this is a common-sense issue. Your article lends itself fully to the common sense of legalization.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 5:46 p.m.

Or to outlawing it, David Johnson. I read it more as a call for making up our minds one way or another. Let's ban it and enforce the ban, or let's legalize it and move on. There can be nothing much worse than being a police officer and having to enforce laws that the public doesn't want enforced or for which there is strongly divided opinion, and you have to guess what to do.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 12:12 p.m.

Rich, I generally appreciate your column. But you are way out of touch on this issue. Kids in Ann Arbor, as well as most adults, are NOT smoking weed from Mexico. Period. Yes, there is a serious with smuggling bricks across the border. But in affluent communities like ours, people don't smoke that garbage product. Most local marijuana was already grown domestically (or some from Canada). But now with medicinal, most is even grown here locally in Michigan. Yay for the local economy, lol.


Sat, May 19, 2012 : 3:09 p.m.

Yep, I'll offer my agreement that everyone I know buys local.

West of Main

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 7:50 p.m.

Ross is correct. In Ann Arbor, we don't smoke brick weed, reggies, or even middies, for the most part. We smoke top shelf, trichome-laden, mostly Michigan-grown cannabis. And we like it. Leave us alone.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 4:10 p.m.

Yeah, everyone I know who smokes buys it directly from someone who is growing it right here in Michigan even if they haven't bothered to get a medical marijuana card.

Robert Granville

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

So right you are. If I'm smoking it, I can tell you the first and last name of who grew it. I wouldn't, but you get the point.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 3:33 p.m.

You got that right, Ross!

just a voice

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 11:54 a.m.

2 main issues; 1 - a blunt is a joint made with a cigar paper and pot, no other drugs are put in. I even checked urban dictionary to make sure I wan't hip to the new jive 2- besides the fact that was already pointed out about the border and the problem being the fact that pot is illegal and not the pot itself, I also question what percentage of the border problems are pot vs prostitution and other drugs. Also, it should be pointed out that most of the pot for sale in michigan today is grown here not imported

Paul Epstein

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 11:44 a.m.

The people on the Southern border are in harm's way due, precisely, to this drug's prohibition as opposed to the drug itself. It's the "war on drugs" that is clearly thousands of times worse than any drug ever was. If it were left alone--as any relatively non-dangerous substance ought to be--there would be no danger at all. Marijuana is illegal because of its unpopularity among certain rule-making types (and equally unpopular is the subculture it's associated with), not its danger.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 11:37 a.m.

Rich I appreciate your honesty about having mixed feelings when it came to enforcing marijuana laws. I'm friends with a retired officer (Detroit) and while he's never gone on public record, he has said similar things. If you get a chance, I'd recommend a book titled "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander. There are things in it that you won't agree with but it's a persuasive analysis of the damage done by mass incarceration as a result of punitive drug laws.

David Cahill

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 6:02 p.m.

Well said, Phillis.

Jimmy McNulty

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 11:05 a.m.

I'm mention that " it is easier for a teenager to buy a "nickel" or "dime" -- $5 or $10 that is-- bag of weed in and around school then it is to get a 6-pack of beer from their old man's fridge" Does a "nickel bag" or a "dime bag" of weed even exist today, and would there be enough for even one joint? My guess is no.


Sat, May 19, 2012 : 3:07 p.m.

Ehh, yes, they do.

Some Guy in 734

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

I'm going to guess that a $5 bag is likely nothing more than the contents of a pencil sharpener.

Jimmy Smith

Thu, May 17, 2012 : 10:41 a.m.

Officer, the drug is only harmful as the actions that people take as a result of it's prohibition. If people were allowed to peacefully grow their own plants and buy it legally at a smoke shop, I guarantee that nobody will get killed from it. Nobody EVER in history died as a result from using marijuana itself. Your argument is bogus, sir.


Sat, May 19, 2012 : 3:06 p.m.

jmcmurray - okay, a first hand account of increased likelihood of accidental death: When I was 15 I got stoned and went into a haunted house being constructed by neighbors of mine. There was a tunnel with a walkway in the middle, with neon swirls lit by blacklight rotating entirely around the walkway. There were no handrails. I became dizzy, stepped right off the walkway, and fell on the spiraling canvas. I was about the be fed into the conveyor belt when my mother grabbed me and pulled me up. Also, Rich is right. These crimes in the south DO happen because of the drug trade, HE DID NOT SAY they would continue to happen if pot was legalized. He was talking about RIGHT NOW, to people who are saying RIGHT NOW that nobody is being hurt over it.


Fri, May 18, 2012 : 3:37 a.m.

I read the article the way it was written and they way Jimmy Smith interprets it "For those who will blog that marijuana is just a victimless substance that has been around for 10,000 years — save it. Ask the people who live in the southern border states if marijuana is a harmless, victimless recreational drug. People die everyday to get the recreational users their little baggy..." Mr. Kinsey's argument is bogus because these things wouldn't happen over a plant you can grow yourself, if it were legal. There would be little black market trade because you wouldn't be getting it from drug dealers, you could grow it yourself. Finally, people die every day doing stupid things while they are perfectly sober. Please provide a reference for the claim that marijuana increases the likelihood of accidental death.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 7:59 p.m.

Im not sure what article JS was reading.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 5:42 p.m.

While I'm "for" legalizing Marijuana - certainly there has been a case where someone has died as a result from doing something stupid while under the influence of the drug. They may have not died from the drug itself but it certainly impairs you enough that some people do stupid things while on it.


Thu, May 17, 2012 : 12:49 p.m.

If you go back and carefully read the article again, I think you'll find that Rich's "bogus" argument is not really in direct opposition to yours. To the contrary, it sounds to me as though he would have nothing at all against full legalization and monitoring of the trade, but would simply prefer to dump this thinly veiled half-kinda-sorta-legal garbage and make it clearly all one way or the other. And of course you could never "guarantee that nobody will get killed from it" if pot were fully legalized. You may see the bloody trade across borders and through gangs take a hit, but even if made legal the black market trade would still exist to some degree. Not saying this should be an argument against legalization, but simply pointing out the foolishness of this statement. Anything of value will still have people killing over it once in a while.