City of Oak Park Marijuana Decriminalization Proposal (August 2014)

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A City of Oak Park Marijuana Decriminalization Proposal ballot question was on the August 5, 2014 election ballot for voters in the city of Oak Park in Oakland County, Michigan, where it was approved.[1][2]

This measure decriminalized 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 applied to city law. Marijuana remained illegal according to state and federal law.[3]

Initiative efforts to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana have been announced for 2014 ballots in 18 cities throughout Michigan. All of the efforts are backed by the Safer Michigan Coalition.[1][4]

Election results

Hazel Park Charter Amendment
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 2,161 53.04%
No1,91346.96%
Election results from Oakland County elections office

Background

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.[5]

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 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.[6]

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.[5]

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.”[5]

Safer Michigan Coalition banner

Text of measure

Ballot question

The question on the ballot:[7]

Shall Chapter 8 of the Charter of the City of Oak Park be amended to add a new Section 8.15, entitled “Marijuana,” to state that: “Nothing in the Code of Ordinances shall apply to the use, possession or transfer of less than 1 ounce of marijuana, on private property not used by the public, or transportation of less than 1 ounce of marijuana, by a person who has attained the age of 21 years”?[8]

Support

Supporters

Debra Young was the spokesperson for the decriminalization efforts in both Oak Park and Hazel Park.[1]

In 2014, the Safer Michigan Coalition started 18 initiatives in Michigan to decriminalize marijuana on the local level, including the effort in Oak Park. The efforts were designed to be spearheaded by local activists in each targeted city.[3]

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.”[9]


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

Arguments in favor

Supporters of decriminalization argued 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 argued 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]

Opposition

Arguments against

Opponents argued 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 argued that the energy and money put into these petitions could be put to better use for the communities in which the initiatives were proposed.[10]

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.”[10]

Many opponents of the initiative expected 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.[11]

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing local ballot measures in Michigan

Signatures

The Safer Michigan Coalition coordinated 2014 efforts in 18 cities in Michigan. The coalition planned to mobilize local activists to start collecting signatures on April 1, 2014. Supporters, led by Debra Young, turned in 1,800 signatures, with only 1,150 valid signatures required to qualify the initiative for the August ballot.[12][4]

Lawsuit over delay

Tim Beck and supporters of the Oak Park marijuana decriminalization initiative accused city officials of delaying the petition effort. The petitioners submitted signatures on April 27, 2014, which was, according to proponents, long enough before the primary election to guarantee a spot for the initiative on the August ballot. The city, however, citing delays from the attorney general in returning approval of the initiative's ballot language, considered pushing the vote back to the November 4, 2014 general election. Tim Beck announced that the Safer Michigan Coalition filed a lawsuit against the city, seeking to force the proposal onto the August election ballot. They were successful.[13]

Similar measures

Recreational

Colorado:

Defeatedd Town of Palmer Lake Marijuana Legalization Referendum (April 2014)

Maine:

Michigan:

New Mexico:
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of Albuquerque Marijuana Decriminalization Measure (November 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of Santa Fe Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative (November 2014)

Wisconsin:

Approveda Dane County State Legalization of Marijuana Referendum (April 2014)

Medical

California:

Approveda Lake County Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance 2997 Referendum, Measure N (June 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of Imperial Beach "Compassionate Access Ordinance" Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Act (June 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of Napa Medical Marijuana Dispensary Referendum (November 2014)

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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