The city of Grand Rapids, Michigan is struggling to collect civil infraction fines attached to marijuana possession tickets.
City voters chose to make marijuana possession a civil infraction as opposed to a misdemeanor after a 2012 vote, meaning that while possession is still illegal, it is no longer considered a criminal offense. Instead, those caught with cannabis are fined $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second offense and $100 for a third. Barely half of those ticketed for marijuana possession have paid their fines since the law change went into effect, resulting in more than $100,000 in unpaid fines.
To help counter the problem, city officials within the court system are considering making non-payment of fines a misdemeanor offense.
“We are looking at this point in time at some statutory provisions that will allow us to take some additional enforcement,”
said Gary Secor, a Grand Rapids court administrator.
“We don’t have any recourse (right now) on these municipal civil infractions for marijuana. If they don’t pay, they don’t pay.”
While this is not the first time the city has dealt with unpaid civil infraction fines, the high number of marijuana possession fines going unpaid is abnormal. Typically, the city receives payment for about 80 percent of the fines assessed for civil matters such as barking dogs, fireworks or house code violations. However, payment of marijuana possession fines is falling well below that 80 percent mark, and the city court currently has little recourse when offenders choose not to pay. While unpaid traffic tickets, for example, can be passed along to the Secretary of State who can then assess additional non-payment penalties, there is not presently anything that can be done against those who fail to pay marijuana fines.
In 2015, more than $24,000 in marijuana fines have not been paid. Last year, about 47 percent of fines, or about $42,000, went uncollected, leaving city officials scrambling for new ways to ensure payment. If all unpaid marijuana possession fines since 2012 are added together, the city is owed about $100,000, in total. Secor noted that, from a business standpoint, it does not make sense to chase down offenders who only owe $25 or so in fines.
The court’s next move, according to Secor, will likely be to send postcards to those who fail to pay marijuana possession fines reminding them that failing to answer a citation for a municipal civil infraction is a misdemeanor offense.