April 17, 2019

Drug charges remain serious, even with new marijuana laws

Last fall, when Michigan voters approved an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, they opened up a world of possibilities. Several states have been moving to legalize recreational marijuana in recent years, and the federal government has struggled to respond. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and there are still thousands of people serving time in prison for marijuana-related crimes.

One less well-understood aspect of the Michigan initiative is a provision that is meant to help people who have been hurt by the prosecution of drug crimes. The initiative requires that the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs promote participation in the newly legalized marijuana industry among members of communities who have been disproportionately affected by drug crime prosecution.

The language of the initiative is vague, and state officials are still trying to figure out how to meet the mandate. However, officials have noted that African Americans are disproportionately affected by drug crime prosecution. One study found that, while white and black Michigan residents use marijuana at roughly the same levels, black Michigan residents were more than three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Now, with government-licensed marijuana dispensary centers getting ready to open, government officials say African Americans account for only a small fraction of the owners of these small businesses. One possible reason for this is that the licensing fees for opening a marijuana dispensary are beyond the reach of many African American-owned businesses. State officials are trying to find a way to give minority business owners inroads into the new industry.

While the legal landscape around marijuana is changing rapidly in Michigan, it’s important to remember that drug charges remain very serious. People who are facing drug charges need help from an attorney with experience in criminal defense.