LANSING — State Representative Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) called for action Wednesday on a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. House Bill 4623 would make possession of one ounce or less a civil infraction and would create a stepped fine based on whether the violation is a first, second or third offense. Under current law, possession is classified as a misdemeanor with heavy fines and jail time.

“Michigan spends an estimated $326 million a year on arresting, trying and imprisoning people for marijuana offenses”, said Irwin. “Yet such policies have proven remarkably ineffective in achieving their purpose of preventing marijuana use.”

According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of Americans believe enforcing current marijuana laws costs more than its worth.

“Using police, courts and corrections officials to prosecute marijuana ‘crimes’ while murders, rapes and burglaries go unsolved is a tremendous waste of resources in a state that can’t afford to misprioritize its assets right now,” said Neill Franklin, a retired state police major and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “This bill is a sensible first step toward a more humane and just criminal justice system in Michigan.”

Irwin added, “Communities across the state are recognizing this and have passed local ordinances decriminalizing marijuana or have voted to treat marijuana possession as the lowest priority for local law enforcement. It’s time for the state to recognize what local communities and citizens already have. HB 4623 would help remedy this widely recognized problem, freeing up limited state and local resources for more critical priorities like public safety or education.”

State Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) was a co-sponsor to the bill, who said he signed on because he wanted to show that there was bi-partisan support for having the debate.

“Much as we did with the failed prohibition of alcohol, I feel we have reached a crossroads where we need to readdress how the state will enforce some aspects of marijuana law, especially for adult use,” said Shirkey. “I would need to see some of the language in this bill changed before I could vote for it, especially in regards to minors. But it is abundantly clear that the status quo regarding our laws and recreational adult use needs to be robustly analyzed, debated and changed where prudent.”