A coalition of marijuana law reform advocates have announced the cities they have targeted for petition drives to put pro-marijuana initiatives on the ballot for 2014. Included: 11 cities and one county.
East Lansing will follow in the footsteps of its namesake, as Lansing passed a pro-marijuana ordinance via the Coalition for a Safer Lansing in 2013 using the petition process. The same man is leading the charge in this campaign: local attorney Jeffrey Hank. A second attorney running a local initiative is Bernard Jocuns from Lapeer.
The drive in Mount Pleasant is being led by Brandon McQueen, the former co-owner of a famous shuttered dispensary, Compassionate Apothecary. The court ruling in that case cast an unfavorable light on marijuana distribution centers across the state and led to the demise of hundreds of dispensaries statewide.
Two cited communities are located in Oakland County, famous for being the most restrictive and difficult county for marijuana patients to live, work and do business in. Oak Park and Hazel Park both hug the southeastern corner of Oakland County and border 8 Mile Road, the famous northern border of Detroit. Last year, neighboring community Ferndale passed a marijuana legalization measure by a comfortable margin.
A new twist on an old theme brings the marijuana law reform issue to four communities in the northern lower peninsula: tiny Onaway, Harrison, Clare, and Benzie County, which has a ballot initiative process not enjoyed by other Michigan counties. "It's great to see a county that will help to make policy for all of its communities in one shot," said Jamie Lowell of Ypsilanti's 3rd Coast Compassion Center. "Harrison and Clare have strong community support with a well-established foundation of local activists leading the charge," Lowell added.
Not to be outdone, the Upper Peninsula has a move afoot to put a question on the ballot in November in Marquette, but that effort is being launched by a group other than the coalition.
Michigan citizens have adopted pro-marijuana ordinances and state laws every time the opportunity has been afforded to them over the last ten years. The Coalition issuing the press release is responsible for 13 local victories; Grand Rapids passed a ballot proposal decriminalizing marijuana in 2012, but that was not orchestrated by the Coalition's machine. Also approved by an overwhelming margin: the 2008 Medical Marihuana Act, a statewide ballot proposal that garnered 63% of the vote.
One of those successful ballot proposals was led by Steven Sharpe. Jackson, the birthplace of the Republican Party, voted to legalize marijuana in 2013. "The voters showed up strongly just to vote for the local ballot proposal, based on our exit polling," said Sharpe. "The voter turnout was just so much higher than we expected. To get it on the ballot was exciting; winning was even more exciting."
The press release reads:
Michigan cannabis reform activists intend to run ballot initiatives to legalize or decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use in the cities of Saginaw, Mt. Pleasant, East Lansing, Oak Park, Port Huron, Lapeer, Utica, Hazel Park, Clare, Onaway, Harrison and the County of Benzie. Some initiatives will be on the ballot in the August primary and others in the November general election this year.
This action follows on the heels of overwhelming wins for such measures at the polls in Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale in 2013. Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ypsilanti and Flint in 2012 and Kalamazoo in 2011. Marijuana use has been the equivalent of a traffic ticket in Ann Arbor since 1973.
"The State of Michigan is ripe for change," said Tim Beck, co founder of the "Safer Michigan Coalition" which provided legal, consulting and funding services for seven of the last eight local ballot initiatives wins since 2011. "It is highly likely every one of these efforts will be successful. One of our goals is to get the Legislature to support HB 4263, which has bi partisan sponsorship. The bill makes small time marijuana use the equivalent of a traffic. This is nothing radical. 17 states including New York, Ohio, Kentucky, California and Mississippi have such laws."
An EPIC/MRA poll in 2012 indicated 65% support for making small time marijuana use a civil infraction in the State of Michigan.
"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," Beck continued. "HB 4263 should be the first step to correct this problem. We hope some day that cannabis will be regulated like tobacco and alcohol, as they now do in Colorado and Washington State."
There is a possibility other cities will be in play. "This is a grass roots effort and anything can happen in the weeks ahead," said Beck.
The "Safer Michigan Coalition" does not speak for the local leaders or conditions in the communities that are likely to be on the ballot this year. Local spokespersons are as follows:
SAGINAW: Cary Justice: 810-241-0739
MT PLEASANT: Brandon McQueen: 989-506-6737
EAST LANSING: Jeffery Hank:855-426-5529
OAK PARK: Debra Young: 734-604-2676
HAZEL PARK: Debra Young: 734-604-2676
UTICA: Mike Lumetta: 586-817-0830
CLARE: Eric Herbers: 989-339-8142
ONAWAY: Ron Langworthy: 231-833-0289
HARRISON: Richard Phillips:989-630-7920
BENZIE COUNTY: Rev. Steve Thompson: 231-882-4496