Michigan State Police Don't Know What to Do With All These Marijuana Smells

Recreational marijuana became legal in Michigan on December 6, 2018. However, law enforcement is still coming to terms with what it means for investigations and arrests.

WMMT reports that in the eleven months since marijuana use became legal, state police have been struggling with how to respond in situations where weed smoke is detected.

According to Michigan State Police sergeant Andrew Jeffrey, civilians are still calling in to report smelling marijuana smoke, but police no longer have the remit to investigate those calls if the culprits are smoking legally.

Jeffrey said that police still intervene in cases of underage use, which remains against the law, telling the station "We come across a lot of kids that are under 21 that have possession of it and obviously that's in violation, so we seize it and go through the process that way. But when we come across people that are 21 and older and actually have it legally that's where it's kind of hard to deal with it in that aspect."

Smoking marijuana cigarette
A smoking marijuana cigarette Tunatura / Getty Images

Wayne County Undersheriff Daniel Pfannes told the Detroit Free Press "While we would still take any encounter with an individual who is impaired through the use of marijuana seriously, we clearly recognize the restrictions put on law enforcement by the passage of recreational marijuana. The people voted for it and they're going to get what they wanted."

Police are also preparing for more marijuana users behind the wheel. Driving while impaired carries the same penalty as drunk driving. Departments are now employing "drug recognition experts" who can be called in to evaluate suspects and perform oral cheek swabs to detect THC in a person's bloodstream.

Recreational cannabis use is legal in 11 states, including California, Illinois and Massachusetts. More than two dozen other states along with the U.S. Virgin Islands have decriminalized marijuana, which typically means that a first-time possession case results in no arrest, prison time or criminal record according to NORML.

Although it was officially legalized in Michigan last year, the state is still in the process of setting up a regulated marijuana industry. The first retail permit applications were accepted on November 1.

Many police groups have spoken out against marijuana legalization, but a 2018 study from Washington State University, as reported in the Washington Post, indicated that legalization had no immediately observable negative effects on law enforcement. Instead, states that had legalized pot usage were seen to have faster rates of clearing other types of crime now that police were no longer pursuing drug charges. These faster clearance rates were not mirrored by the country as a whole.