A woman smoking marijuana. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

City Commissioners in Kalamazoo, Michigan voted unanimously on Monday night to decriminalize marijuana, saying that the new ordinance will help police respond to serious crimes even faster than before.

The ordinance imposes a misdemeanor charge for adults over 21 who are caught with less than one ounce of marijuana, carrying with it a fine of up to $100 or a jail sentence not to exceed 93 days. Similarly, first time offenders who plead guilty will have the option of serving probation in exchange for a deferred judgement that is not considered a conviction. The city previously prosecuted small time marijuana offenders under state law, which prescribes a fine up to $2,000 and no more than a year in jail.

City Attorney Clyde J. Robinson recommended Kalamazoo commissioners adopt the ordinance because small marijuana arrests are so frequent that they require “an inordinate amount of [police] resources to catalogue and test marijuana held as evidence.” He added that the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety believes the ordinance will be “a better use of law enforcement resources.”

In an agenda report to the city commissioners (PDF), Robinson explained that the ordinance was in part based upon the City of Chicago’s marijuana decriminalization scheme, passed in June. Chicago officials explained that the ordinance was needed because thousands of cases concerning small amounts of marijuana were clogging up the courts, but the vast majority get dismissed.

“It is anticipated that enforcement of possession of marijuana will result in savings to the KDPS through elimination of processing arrestees and in lab/evidence expenses,” Robinson wrote. “The significance of having officers freed up to respond to calls of service instead of being tied up processing an arrest cannot be understated.”

Voters in Kalamazoo also passed a ballot initiative last year that directs police to treat marijuana as their lowest law enforcement priority. So far, it is the only city in Michigan to do so.