Two of America's leading voices on marijuana law reform were in Grand Rapids on May 14 and reminded the audience in the Wealthy Theater: change is coming, to Michigan and the nation.
Former Baltimore police Major Neill Franklin, now the head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), told the attendees he "was one of those" officers who would arrest people for small amounts of marijuana. The death of a fellow officer made Franklin evaluate the system and the ideals of the war on drugs.
Harvard-educated Ethan Nadelmann is the founder of the Drug Policy Alliance. He explained that his journey began in academia, both as a grad student and later as an instructor. Nadelmann described how his thesis subject allowed him access to drug warriors around the world, giving him a unique insight then and a driving passion for law reform now.
"Mr. Nadelmann and Maj. Franklin are right. Our current marijuana laws are broken. It is time to fix them."- Rep. Brandon Dillon
Flyers for the event credit the Well House and the Grand Rapids Red Project for sponsoring the dialog. Michael Tufflemire, a noted area activist, participated in the production and promotion as well. Tufflemire's Decriminalize GR organization put marijuana decriminalization before the voters in Grand Rapids; the 2012 vote won with over 60% of residents saying YES.
The dialog was directed by a real champion of the marijuana issue in Michigan's House, Rep. Jeff Irwin from Ann Arbor. Rep. Irwin has sponsored or co-sponsored bills in the House of Representatives that proposed topics like forfeiture reform, decriminalization of marijuana, and he's teased the media with hints of a legalization bill coming soon, too. He told the speakers and the attendees that "Michigan is ready" for the kind of reform measures these men would outline.
Rep. Irwin is a courageous legislator and a very active Representative, but his thunder may have been stolen by the man who reps the West Side for the House.
Rep. Brandon Dillon wrote about the discussion in an opinion piece published on May 19 in the Grand Rapids Press and online via the MLive Media Group titled, 'Let's legalize and tax marijuana to help pay for Michigan roads, schools, police'.
"I cosponsored and attended" the discussion, Rep. Dillon wrote, and later added: "We know that attitudes toward marijuana are quickly changing."
Dillon put forth his support for legalizing and taxing marijuana while addressing the issue of public safety:
"While some are concerned that these reforms would open up our state to an increase in crime, that hasn't been the case in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, where marijuana is already legal and regulated. In fact, the year after regulated marijuana was approved in Colorado, violent and property crimes fell 6.9 percent. Similarly, in states that have approved the medical use of marijuana, alcohol-related fatalities have fallen by 12 percent. Clearly, regulating marijuana hasn't created a public safety crisis."
Dillon pointed out that "these changes have brought positive effects to states that not only regulate, but tax marijuana."
"Taking marijuana off the black market will generate much needed revenue, allow us to redeploy law enforcement resources to focus on violent and property crime, and ease the tax burden on the middle class," Dillon wrote.
During the live discussion, and an exclusive after-event where the two took questions in a more intimate setting, Nadelmann described successful drug law reform practices from other nations and from different U.S. states.
Franklin blames the drug war for the escalation of violence seen on the streets in America's large cities, and for the disconnect seen between the cops and citizens. Officers are "blousing their military pants inside their boots" and "wearing their bullet-proof vests on the outside of their uniform shirt," and some even wear military-style helmets now.
"They look like soldiers," Franklin said. Gone are the days, Frankin mused, when the police were easily identified and were non-threatening.
"Mr. Nadelmann and Maj. Franklin are right," Rep. Dillon wrote. "Our current marijuana laws are broken. It is time to fix them."
In attendance were some of Michigan's top names in marijuana law reform, including Jamie Lowell of the MILegalize group and Americans for Safe Access- Michigan.
"I am very appreciative that Major Neil Franklin and Ethan Nadelman came to Michigan to have this timely discussion," Lowell said. "Both gentlemen articulated very clearly how the long-time current policy known as 'the war on drugs' has cost over a trillion dollars, ruined families, claimed innocent lives of both police and civilians, and has failed to solve the issues for which it was intended."
Source: The Compassion Chronicles