City of Frankfort Marijuana Legalization Proposal (November 2014)
|Voting on Marijuana|
|Not on ballot|
If approved, this measure would make it legal according to city law for anyone older than 21 to possess, use or transfer up to an ounce of marijuana.
Proponents originally tried to get the Benzie County Commissioners to put a decriminalization measure on the county ballot. The measure was designed to lighten the maximum punishment for possession and use of up to two and a half ounces of marijuana, making such a violation a civil infraction rather than a criminal one. The measure would have made the maximum penalty for a first violation to be a $25 fine. Multiple violations could raise the fine to $50 and $100 . The measure would eliminate the possibility of jail time and probation for marijuana violations. Urged by the county counsel, who argued that the measure could get the county into legal hot water with state, the county commissioners refused to put the measure on the ballot.
The Safer Michigan Coalition, which was founded by and is run by Tim Beck, Chuck Ream and Justin Soffa, has been active in supporting pro-marijuana efforts in the state of Michigan for several years. Chuck Ream and Tim Beck have been working together for a decade on pro-marijuana efforts. The organization supported and is dedicated to defending the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, approved in 2008. The group is also largely responsible for 14 local ballot measure victories, including five in 2012 and three in 2013.
Ream said, “In order to have some change you’ve got to have some way for the voters to express their opinion. In a city in Michigan you can run a citizen’s initiative.” The method is not available, however, for general law townships or counties. Macomb County and Wayne County are the only two charter counties in Michigan, and the charters of both counties allow for initiative and referendum. The Safer Michigan Coalition has its eye on pro-marijuana proposals in each county for 2015.
Ream explained that the Safer Michigan Coalition created a template and provides support so that local activists can put various initiatives reforming marijuana use enforcement on the ballot. The different recipes offered by the coalition include legalization, which was approved in Ferndale, Lansing and Jackson in 2013, a Lowest Law Enforcement Priority model, enacted in Ypsilanti in 2012, a proposal requiring medical marijuana dispensaries, which was used in Kalamazoo in 2012, and the decriminalization initiatives proposed for multiple local ballots across Michigan in 2014.
Ream expounded on the benefits of running local pro-marijuana efforts, saying, “These local initiatives are really, really cheap, compared to anything that can be done on a state level. For a few thousand dollars we can show that the average voter doesn’t support cannabis prohibition any longer.” Ream said that, although statewide petitions have been successful, the expense - at least a million dollars - of running a statewide campaign was somewhat daunting. Ream did say, “Every time that we give the voice to the voters they reject cannabis prohibition utterly, usually by 60% or more.” Attorney Michael Komorn stated, “I think that this strategy has been brilliant. It’s something where you can always claim victory in every year, these local initiatives.”
Rev. Steve Thompson, representing the Benzie County branch of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML) is in charge of the specific local effort in Frankfort =.
The Safer Michigan Coalition is behind multiple initiatives in Michigan to decriminalize marijuana on the local level, including in the city of Frankfort. The efforts are spearheaded by local activists in each targeted city.
Up North Live, "Marijuana activists working towards legalization in Michigan," January 30, 2014
Arguments in favor
Thompson said, “I would like to see us become the first county to adopt an ordinance that not completely decriminalizes cannabis, it still recognizes that it's illegal, but it's reduced to a civil infraction and not such a hardship on us that choose to use it."
Supporters of decriminalization argue that possession and use of small amounts of marijuana by consenting adults should not be illegal because it is not harmful and restrictions are not enforceable. They also argue that law enforcement should focus on more dangerous crimes and that any attempt to enforce marijuana prohibition is a waste of time. Tim Beck, co-founder of the Safer Michigan Coalition, said, "Its time for law enforcement and the court system to start dealing with real crime, with real victims; not harassing consenting adults for something that should not be a crime in the first place."
Opponents argue that the rash of local decriminalization measures showing up across Michigan are futile, impotent and symbolic at best since they contradict state and federal laws outlawing marijuana. Many opponents argue that the energy and money put into these petitions could be put to better use for the communities in which the initiatives were proposed.
Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel said, “I believe it is a gateway drug and it can lead to more serious drugs, and as you know we have quite a problem in Benzie County related to serious narcotics, such as pain medication and heroin."
Dave Coulter, mayor of Ferndale, a city that featured a similar decriminalization initiative in 2013, said, “My understanding is that state and federal drug laws can’t be changed at the local level. Ferndale has a history of local activism through symbolic statements like this and they certainly have their place, but in terms of effecting actual change at the city level, a focus on economic development and jobs, our neighborhoods and our schools will have a greater impact.”
In Flint, one of the five cities in which decriminalization and marijuana related measures were approved in 2012, law enforcement officials said that the vote was merely symbolic as police officers would continue to make arrests of marijuana users under state law.
Path to the ballot
The Safer Michigan Coalition is coordinating efforts in many cities and a county in Michigan. The coalition planned to mobilize local activists to start collecting signatures on April 1, 2014. Petitioners would have to submit ballot language and enough valid signatures by August 12 to get their initiative on the ballot in Frankfort.
- City of Lewiston Recreational Marijuana Legalization Measure (November 2014)
- Town of York Recreational Marijuana Legalization Measure (November 2014)
- City of South Portland Recreational Marijuana Legalization Measure (November 2014)
- Butte County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Referendum (2014)
- Shasta County Outdoor Medical Marijuana Ordinance Referendum (November 2014)
- City of San Jose Medical Marijuana Regulation Act of 2014 (November 2014)
Lake County Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance 2997 Referendum, Measure N (June 2014)
City of Imperial Beach "Compassionate Access Ordinance" Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Act (June 2014)
City of Napa Medical Marijuana Dispensary Referendum (November 2014)
Recent Michigan measures
City of Lansing Marijuana Decriminalization Proposal (November 2013)
Detroit City Marijuana Decriminalization Question (November 2012)
Flint City Marijuana Use Exemption Amendment Proposal (November 2012)
Grand Rapids City Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Proposal (November 2012)
Kalamazoo City Medical Marijuana Amendment Measure (November 2012)
Ypsilanti City Marijuana Amendment (November 2012)
- Local marijuana on the ballot
- Benzie County, Michigan ballot measures
- November 4, 2014 ballot measures in Michigan
- Michigan NORML branch website
- What is Marijuana? website
- Safer Michigan Coalition website
- Marijuana Policy Project, "Michigan city ballot initiatives status," accessed July 2, 2014
- The Weed Bog, "12 Michigan Cities Targeted For Marijuana Ballot Proposals In 2014," April 3, 2014
- Ballotpedia staff writer Josh Altic, "Phone interview with Rev. Steve Thompson," July 10, 2014
- Up North Live, "Benzie County man looks to decriminalize marijuana," March 18, 2014
- The Weed Blog, "Michigan Cities Sized Up For Local Marijuana Initiatives In 2014," January 5, 2014
- The Joint Blog, "Enough Signatures Collected to Put Cannabis Legalization to a Vote in 10 Michigan Cities, 1 County," April 2, 2014
- C and G News, "Petition seeks to decriminalize marijuana use and possession," August 7, 2013
- Michigan Live, "Flint decriminalization of marijuana vote only 'symbolic;' arrests will continue, city says," November 8, 2012
- Michigan NORML website, "US MI: Pot Activists Prepare For New Campaigns In Michigan," March 18, 2014
- Nine and Ten News, "Marijuana Civil Infraction Ordinance Could Show on Benzie's November Ballot," April 1, 2014