After referendum, KBIC considers drug control law

BARAGA — In considering a change to its controlled substances ordinance, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) Tribal Council on Thursday held the second public reading of a proposed ordinance.

The current statute is broad and lumps any act with any controlled substance — as defined by the state — together, according to assistant tribal attorney Kevin Carlisle. He said it doesn’t include any separation for the amount of the substance, type of substance, age of the perpetrator or seriousness of action, such as distribution as opposed to possession.

The new ordinance is intended to reduce the penalties for marijuana offenses while making other drug enforcement more comprehensive, according to KBIC vice president Jennifer Misegan, who introduced the ordinance.

One of the main changes is separating marijuana from other drugs in the law. Manufacture, distribution or bringing marijuana onto KBIC territory would still be punished at the same level as other controlled substances, but use and possession of less than 3.5 grams carry lesser charges for people over the age of 21.

It also makes the possession, manufacture and distribution of drug paraphernalia punishable by Class A misdemeanor.

“It has the same potential for deterrent impact,” Carlisle said.

Another section of the proposed ordinance makes trying to avoid or cheat a urine test to avoid detection punishable by a Class C misdemeanor, which Carlisle said is not an uncommon provision.

Complicating the issue for the council is the recent vote on marijuana legalization across the state, and jurisdictional issues with the state and federal government.

Ordinances too oddly matched with state law would be difficult to enforce, Carlisle said. At the same time, he said, tribal ordinances need to be approved through the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. The federal government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug, the same level as heroin and LSD. Shortly after the statewide legalization referendum passed earlier this week, Michigan U.S. attorneys Andrew Birge and Matthew Schneider released a statement affirming they would not be unilaterally halting enforcement of marijuana law because of the vote. However, they seemed to emphasize that seriousness of the crime is always considered.

“We will consider the federal law enforcement priorities set by the United States Department of Justice, the seriousness of the crime, the deterrent effect of prosecution, and the cumulative impact of the crime on a community,” the statement read.

It also stated federal agents are increasingly focused on combating the opioid epidemic.

In light of these developments, the Tribal Council is discussing changes to the ordinance, including the possibility of removing the sections concerning marijuana.