Ferndale, Berkley police discuss impact of recreational marijuana

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published December 11, 2018

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FERNDALE/BERKLEY — As of Dec. 6, recreational marijuana is legal in Michigan.

Due to Proposal 1, Michiganders ages 21 and older can now under state law legally smoke marijuana and carry up to 2.5 ounces on their person away from their home. Residents also can grow up to 12 marijuana plants, but up to a 10-ounce limit.

Though recreational marijuana now is legal, there was some question as to whether some municipalities would follow the federal law instead, in which marijuana is an illegal substance and a Schedule 1 narcotic.

Police Chief Vincent Palazzolo said the Ferndale Police Department will be following the new state law.

“Our city, as a whole, has been very tolerant and has passed ordinances in the past allowing personal consumption in the privacy of their own homes,” he said. “We’re basically going to start treating it … kind of like an alcohol violation.”

Palazzolo said operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana is the same as operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol.

“If you get stopped and we believe that you’re currently under the influence, you’ll be ran through a series of field sobriety tests. Depending on how you do on those tests, if you fail, we would get a blood draw and prosecute you under that.”

Berkley Public Safety Director Matt Koehn concurred with his Ferndale counterpart, saying his department also will be following the state law while reiterating that it still is illegal federally.

“I don’t anticipate the DEA coming into really any city and enforcing small amounts, which is allowed by the Michigan law,” he said.

Koehn also said that, as marijuana is a Schedule I drug, it’s a federal prohibitor for owning, possessing or purchasing a firearm.

“That has not changed. So we’re looking for direction down the road, but as of right now, if somebody says they use marijuana … it’s a federal prohibitor from owning a firearm,” he said.

As to enforcement, Koehn envisions that it might be similar to when the medical marijuana law first passed.

“There’s a lot of things in flux right now, and I think that’s the same thing with the recreational marijuana. We are certainly going to follow the law. We’re going to enforce the law fairly and impartially and follow the law, but it took a while for the procedure and process for medical marijuana to be implemented through the federal statutes. So that’s what I think we’re all kind of waiting to do, but it’s just like medical marijuana. If you possess a legal amount of marijuana, obviously we’re not going to arrest you. We’re going to follow the law.”

Palazzolo said that in the beginning stages of this new era, there’s going to be a lot of education for officers on how to implement the new law. He said they haven’t received any official direction from the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, the city attorney or the Michigan State Police.

“We’re just reading the law ... and pulling the pieces out and examining scenarios that we believe we’ll encounter on a daily basis,” he said. “If we pull a car over and there’s a 10-pound box full of marijuana, then obviously that would be over what is permitted and we would confiscate that and then proceed with charges down the road. I’m not even sure we’d make an arrest, but we would take a crime report and forward it to the Prosecutor’s Office because, remember, we’re the enforcement. We forward our findings to the Prosecutor’s Office. If they decide they’re not going to do anything, then I’m not going to spend our valuable resources and time.”

Palazzolo said he hopes the department’s community engagement, school resource officer and any officer on the road can do small educational pieces with residents.

“But like I said, we’re really waiting for guidance from the Prosecutor’s Office, from (the) state level, on what that looks like,” he said. “We’re going to err on the side of caution and not take enforcement action until we figure out exactly what all the expectations are.”

Koehn believes there’s going to be a learning curve with the new law, both for his police officers and for the public, much like there was with medical marijuana.

“It’s just takes a little more investigation,” he said. “You have limits, you can’t be over the limit, but I do think there will be a little bit of a learning curve. We have officers that have had good discretion and good heads on their shoulders. So we just want to make sure we follow the law.”

As to whether it’s possible that people with pending marijuana cases, occurring before the recreational law passed, could see their charges dropped, Palazzolo said he’s unofficially heard it’s a possibility.

“But that’s not from any official channels. That’s through kind of back channels. It’s kind of the talk I’m hearing. I know the city attorney is not writing simple misdemeanor possession cases. If any are sitting on his desk right now, he won’t be writing those,” he said.

The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office could not be reached immediately for comment.

The police department heads for the cities of Huntington Woods and Pleasant Ridge could not be reached for comment by press time.

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