Washtenaw County Prosecutor: No more charges in cannabis, psychedelic plant cases

Eli Savit to also push for expungement of old criminal convictions

Marijuana plants are pictured at the Baker's marijuana nursery at Baker Medical Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Oklahoma City. When voters in conservative Oklahoma approved medical marijuana in 2018, many thought the rollout would be ploddingly slow and burdened with bureaucracy. Instead, business is booming so much cannabis industry workers and entrepreneurs are moving to Oklahoma from states with more well-established pot cultures, like California, Colorado and Oregon. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) (Sue Ogrocki, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ANN ARBOR – Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit announced Tuesday that his office will no longer bring charges in cases related to marijuana or entheogenic plant use, possession or small-scale distribution.

Entheogenic plants are naturally occurring psychedelics. In September 2020, the Ann Arbor City Council unanimously voted to decriminalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms.

Savit also announced Tuesday that his office supports the expungement of outdated criminal convictions involving the substances.

In the two policy directives issued on Tuesday morning, Savit underscored the racially unequal consequences of the War on Drugs and said that both substances had “pharmacological effects.”

“America’s long experiment with cannabis criminalization has failed,” the marijuana policy reads. “For nearly 100 years, cannabis has been functionally illegal in the United States -- tethering countless Americans to the criminal justice system, and imposing severe collateral consequences.

“The costs of cannabis criminalization, moreover, have not been borne equally,” the policy continues. “Instead, those costs have been borne disproportionately by Black and indigenous people of color.”

In 2018, Michigan voters enacted a ballot initiative to legalize the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis for recreational use. However, Proposal 1 doesn’t protect people from facing criminal charges for possessing too much of the substance.

“Cannabis,” the policy continues “is as safe as alcohol. It is therefore no more appropriate to charge someone for having ‘too much’ marijuana’ than it is to charge someone for having ‘too many’ bottles of wine.” Accordingly, the new directive provides that “the Prosecutor’s Office will decline to file criminal charges for the use or possession of marijuana—whatever the amount at issue.”

Additionally, the policy directive points out that Michigan’s legalization of marijuana did not automatically provide for the expungement of old cannabis-related convictions, unlike in other states.

“Simply put,” the policy directive reads, “people should no longer bear the stigma of a criminal record for activity that is no longer a crime. Accordingly, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office will not contest any application for expungement where the underlying offense was for use, possession, cultivation, or distribution of marijuana.”

With regard to the entheogenic plant directive, it noted that it would be “capricious to continue pursuing entheogenic-related charges originating in other parts of the county” following Ann Arbor’s resolution in 2020. If Washtenaw County’s largest city’s resolution decriminalized the use, growth and possession of psychedelic plants, the Prosecutor’s Office sees no point in bringing charges forward elsewhere in the county.

The directive also argued that entheogenic plants do not generally carry a risk of fatal overdoses, tend to not be addictive and are not connected to violent behavior.

According to the directive, large-scale enterprises distributing controlled substances may still be charged with criminal offenses if they are found to be in violation of health and safety standards or if they are found to be distributing substances to minors.

Charges will continue to be brought against those operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance in Washtenaw County.

“For far too long, the War on Drugs has imposed severe and unjust criminal consequences on communities—particularly communities of color,” Savit said in a news release. “Today’s directives are a first step in moving past that troubling legacy.

“Equally important, is that we allow those with old convictions to get their lives back on track. A criminal conviction can impact a person’s ability to get a job, obtain housing, or continue their education. For that reason, we will no longer be contesting expungement for marijuana or entheogenic-related offenses.”

See the full policy directives for cannabis and marijuana and entheogenic plants.

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.