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City of East Lansing Marijuana Decriminalization Proposal (May 2015)

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A City of East Lansing Marijuana Decriminalization Proposal ballot question may be on the May 5, 2015 election ballot for voters in the city of East Lansing in Clinton and Ingham Counties, Michigan. Supporters originally sought to put this measure on the November 4, 2014 election ballot.[1]

If approved, this measure would decriminalize the possession and use of less than one ounce of marijuana on private property by an adult above the age of 21. The measure only applies to city law. Marijuana would remain illegal according to state and federal law.[2]

Initiative efforts to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana were announced in 18 cities throughout Michigan for 2014 ballots. Thirteen qualified for the 2014 ballot, while two were postponed to 2015 ballots and three did not make the ballot at all. Two were approved on August 5, 2014.[1]

Voters in the city of Lansing approved a similar measure in 2013, which was organized by the same local attorney Jeffrey Hank.[1]

Background

As of 2014, the Safer Michigan Coalition, which was founded and run by Tim Beck, Chuck Ream and Justin Soffa, had been active in supporting pro-marijuana efforts in the state of Michigan for several years. Chuck Ream and Tim Beck had been working together for a decade on pro-marijuana efforts. The organization was dedicated to defending the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, approved in 2008. The group was also largely responsible for 14 local ballot measure victories, including five in 2012 and three in 2013.[3]

Past local marijuana measures in Michigan

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 was not available, however, for general law townships or counties. Macomb County and Wayne County were the only two charter counties in Michigan, and the charters of both counties allow for initiative and referendum. The Safer Michigan Coalition stated that it had its eye on pro-marijuana proposals in each county for 2015.[4]

Ream explained that the Safer Michigan Coalition created a template and provided support so that local activists could put various initiatives reforming marijuana use enforcement on the ballot. The different recipes offered by the coalition included:[3]

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.”[3]


Safer Michigan Coalition banner

Support

Supporters

Local attorney Jeffrey Hank is the chief coordinator for the initiative in East Lansing.[1]

The Safer Michigan Coalition is behind multiple initiatives in Michigan to decriminalize marijuana on the local level. The efforts are spearheaded by local activists in each targeted city. The local chapter is called the Coalition for a Safer East Lansing.[2]

Tim Beck, co-founder of the Safer Michigan Coalition, said, “Our goal is to create confusion and chaos between state and local laws so our legislators in Lansing with step up to the plate [sic] and do the will of the people. Ultimately there needs to be marijuana legalization like they have in Colorado, where it is legal and regulated.”[5]


Up North Live, "Marijuana activists working towards legalization in Michigan," January 30, 2014

Arguments in favor

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. Beck said, "Its [sic] 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."[1]

During the campaign for the similar 2013 initiative approved in the city of Lansing, Jeffery Hank, an attorney and the Chairman for a Coalition for a Safer Lansing, said, "We want law enforcement focus to be on serious crimes with victims. This is a pro-law enforcement, pro-civil liberties initiative meant to improve safety and policing in Lansing while restoring constitutional liberties that are a casualty of the so-called war on drugs," Hank added. "This is an initiative that indicates that the voters of Lansing seek peace."[6]

Opposition

Arguments against

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.[7]

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.”[7]

Many opponents of the initiative expect law enforcement officials to continue making arrests under state law despite approved local decriminalization initiatives. 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.[8]

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing local ballot measures in Michigan

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. Although the proponents of the measure had originally targeted the November 4, 2014 election ballot for this measure, it was postponed due to missed deadlines until the next election in November of 2015. However, state legislators decided to put a sales tax increase question before voters on May 5, 2015, allowing for an election on this date rather than in the Fall. All of the East Lansing City Council members expressed a desire to have the election on this proposal as soon as the law allowed.[9][10]

Similar measures

2015 measures

Recent Michigan measures

Approveda City of Lansing Marijuana Decriminalization Proposal (November 2013)
Approveda Detroit City Marijuana Decriminalization Question (November 2012)
Approveda Flint City Marijuana Use Exemption Amendment Proposal (November 2012)
Approveda Grand Rapids City Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Proposal (November 2012)
Approveda Kalamazoo City Medical Marijuana Amendment Measure (November 2012)
Approveda Ypsilanti City Marijuana Amendment (November 2012)

See also

External links

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Additional reading

References