The recreational use of marijuana for people over 21 has been legal since Dec. 6 and with the new law comes major changes for students and Western Michigan University’s campus police in the new semester.
Scott Merlo, WMU Public Safety’s chief of police, said that legalization means big changes for students and for the department going forward.
“It’s an illegal substance at the federal level and we receive federal funds, so it’s a policy violation. But we don’t enforce federal laws, it’s not in our purview and criminally there’s not a lot we can do,” Merlo said.
Merlo explained that for students under the age of 21, possession is a civil infraction rather than a crime. This means that students could be ticketed, much like a traffic violation, but not charged criminally by a prosecutor. The maximum fine under the new law is $100. Students over the age of 21 who are in possession of more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana could face the same fine. In either case, students could face administrative punishment through the Office of Student Conduct.
For Merlo, marijuana enforcement becoming an issue of administrative rather than criminal policy, while a large change, is just another part of the job.
“Yes, it’s a huge shift in our paradigm here and for all of in law enforcement, really. It was illegal for so long, my entire career, but laws change and we have to adapt with them,” Merlo said.
An email sent to students by WMU’s Office of Marketing and Strategic Communications shortly after marijuana legalization passed in the November election explained the universities reasons for continuing to prohibit marijuana.
“Marijuana is not conducive to a productive learning or work environment,” reads the email. In the email, the office further wrote that “the university also has obligations under the Federal Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which was established to ‘foster a safe and drug free learning environment that supports student academic achievement.’”
WMU’s campus had 193 drug law violation referrals in 2017. In an interview with MLive, Merlo said that police made 100 drug violation arrests on campus in 2017. 91 of those arrests involved marijuana.
Marijuana legalization passed on Nov. 6 as Michigan Proposal 1. The new law is known now as the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. Although possession is now legal, the state of Michigan has until Dec. 6, 2019 to regulate and authorize the sale of marijuana.