There were five in 2012 and three in 2013, and Michigan marijuana law reform leaders promise to continue the trend of passing ballot initiatives in Michigan cities in 2014.
Why not? The record of success in these local initiatives is a perfect 14 - 0.
Although local leaders do the bulk of the work to pass local initiatives, all three 2013 success stories- and all but one of the 2012 ballot proposals- were initiated by the Safer Michigan group. Led by veteran political operatives Tim Beck of Detroit and Chuck Ream of Ann Arbor, the Safer group's leadership has been bolstered by the addition of Justin Soffa.
Beck and Ream were among the interviews conducted during the year's first episode of the Planet Green Trees Internet radio broadcast, Michigan's premiere radio show covering medical marijuana topics. Host and attorney Michael Komorn introduced Ream by saying, "He has been advocating for marijuana reform forever." Komorn called him the "mastermind... in utilizing the ballot initiatives to pass legislation to reform or decriminalize, in some capacity, marijuana."
"In order to have some change you've got to have some way for the voters... to express their opinion," Ream said. "In a city in Michigan you can run a citizen's initiative." Although this method is not available at a township or county level, Ream explained that the Safer team has created a set of templates activists can use to put various styles of marijuana law reform before their city's voters.
Those templates include a legalization model, as was passed in Ferndale, Lansing and Jackson last year; a Lowest Law Enforcement Priority method, which has been enacted in Ypsilanti; and a provision requiring medical marijuana dispensaries, used in Kalamazoo.
"These local initiatives are really, really cheap, compared to anything that can be done on a state level," Ream explained. "For a few thousand dollars we can show that the average voter doesn't support cannabis prohibition any longer."
Statewide petitions have been successful, but Ream explained that it takes at least a million dollars to run a campaign of that magnitude. "Every time that we give the voice to the voters they reject cannabis prohibition utterly, usually by 60% or more."
"I think that this strategy has been brilliant," Komorn opined, "it's something where you can always claim victory in every year, these local initiatives."
When asked what to expect in Michigan in 2014, Ream said, "We're going to have big wins in the legislature and we're going to have wins on the local level as well."
"I can categorically assure everyone listening to this that we're going to have more local ballot initiatives," Beck chimed in. "We're in the process of picking target cities right now... again the goal is to just make this issue so boring, so mundane" that people no longer feel threatened by these local relaxations of marijuana restrictions.
"Three of the cities that have been discussed for local action this year include Clare, East Lansing and Frankfort," said Jamie Lowell, Chairman of the Michigan Chapter of Americans for Safe Access and the radio show's Producer. He spoke exclusively to The Compassion Chronicles (TCC). "Safer Michigan has local leaders in all three that are willing to get the process going; those leaders are absolutely critical to the success of the initiatives."
Attorney Thomas Lavigne of Detroit's Cannabis Counsel thinks Wayne County has communities that would be receptive to local activism. "Highland Park, Hamtramck and Sumpter Twp are prime for initiatives," he told TCC.
Marijuana's success at the local ballot box has not been a passing fancy. "2014 is the tenth anniversary of Tim and me starting to work together," Ream explained, "and you have seen a lot happen since." Back then Tim was working in Detroit and Ream in Ann Arbor, both making progress but separately. "It's consistency... year after year after year after year after year, you've gotta be right there doing it. Tim and I have kept our shoulders to the grindstone."