JACKSON, MICHIGAN- Steven Sharpe says, "The biggest challenge in collecting petition signatures is finding people that are actually registered to vote."
He should know- he's spearheaded the effort to put the question of decriminalization of marijuana on the November 2013 Jackson city ballot. More than 500 signatures have been collected and the petitions are ready to be turned in. Sharpe says he'll submit the documents to city officials on Tuesday, July 30th.
Ferndale residents have collected enough signatures to get a similar measure on their ballot, too, and those completed petitions will be delivered on the same day. Both groups of activists plan to hand over their signatures at 10 am at the city clerk's offices in their respective cities and both are calling on media and supporters to join them.
In Jackson, Sharpe and his allies had to collect 430 verifiable signatures. They collected 700- and found that they could only verify about 450. "We cross-referenced the signatures we collected with information provided by the city and we feel confident that these signatures will stand up to scrutiny." To be on the safe side, Sharpe collected an additional 100 signatures in front of the courthouse and a fellow activist picked up nearly 50 more by working the retail district.
"The Jackson County Compassion Club stepped up to help collect the signatures," Sharpe acknowledged. Jackson has been plagued by a city council that seems unresponsive to the wishes of their citizens; ordinances restricting marijuana in commercial and in private settings have inflamed residents, bringing them to protest at city offices on more than one occasion.
"Court employees and police officers expressed that they are on board with the effort," Sharpe said. "In fact, some officers told me they'd like to see this happen sooner rather than later."
The proposed ballot language reads:
"Shall a city ordinance be adopted that no provision of the controlled substances division of the code of ordinances shall apply to the use, possession, or transfer of less than 1 ounce of marijuana, on private property, by a person who has attained the age of 21 years?"
Ferndale is a city that has struggled with their pro-marijuana identity. The Oakland County community was one of only five cities in Michigan with a marijuana ordinance already on the books before 2008-s overwhelming statewide vote to enable medical use of the cannabis plant.
In August of 2010 then-Mayor Craig Covey visited a Ferndale medical marijuana dispensary in a public display of support for the facility. Just days later Clinical Relief was raided by Oakland County Sheriff's Department deputies, along with a similar facility in Waterford. Since then Covey has become County Commissioner and Ferndale has become a no-fly zone for dispensaries and related businesses despite overwhelming citizen support for pro-marijuana issues every time they appear on a ballot.
Ferndale resident Andrew Cissell has been leading the effort to decriminalize marijuana in his city. He was a Democratic candidate for State Representative in the district in 2012 and he vows to run again in 2014. "I honestly think is an issue we shouldn't have to be fighting about any more," he said.
Cissell reported needing 364 signatures to get the decriminalization issue before Ferndale voters. Between himself, his brother Evan and a few volunteers they have almost 600 to turn in on Tuesday. "I'm trying to promote democracy," Cissell said. "Really, there are so many more important issues for us to deal with."
THE NEXT STEP- LANSING AND YPSILANTI
The next step for the petitions is to have their signatures verified; once complete, each proposal is guaranteed to appear on that city's November's ballot. The next step for Sharpe and friends is to "Support Rep. Mike Shirkey and Rep. Jeff Irwin with the statewide decriminalization bill." The Bill, HB 4623, would remove penalties for marijuana use on a statewide level, as Detroit, Grand Rapids and Flint voters chose to do in November of 2012. Several other cities in Michigan have reduced penalties for marijuana possession.
Sharpe notes a Town Hall meeting has been called on August 14 in Grass Lake, located between Ann Arbor and Jackson, to discuss HB 4623. "People from any part of the state are welcome to attend and ask Reps. Shirkey and Irwin about the bill," Sharpe said. The meeting will feature a special guest- Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker Jim Gierach will be coming up from Chicago to address the group.
Editor's note: details about the event are included at the end of this article
The next step for Michigan includes both action in Lansing and more of these citizen's initiatives on a local level. Irwin and Shirkey will advance HB 4623 while Reps. Michael Callton and Kevin Daley push theProvisioning Centers Act through the slow process of passing laws. All insiders expect the debate on these bills to stretch on into 2014-s legislative calendar.
The next city to try to put a decriminalization of marijuana issue before their voters should be Lansing. Attorney Jeffrey Hank announced earlier this year his Safer Lansing group has already begun collecting signatures. Lansing was a hub of cannabis distribution centers until the city attorney politely asked them all to shut down following the court ruling in the famous McQueen case. Various newspaper articles have chronicled the resulting regression of commercial property values and the return of streetside dope peddlers to some neighborhoods where safe access was granted just months earlier.
Hank reiterated in an earlier article that the Lansing decriminalization effort does not authorize minors to use marijuana, it does not decrease penalties for minors who use marijuana, and it does not legitimize driving under the influence of marijuana. The same is true for the proposals in Jackson and Ferndale.
"We want law enforcement focus to be on serious crimes with victims. We want good community-oriented policing, officers of the peace protecting and serving the People of Lansing. This is a pro-law enforcement and civil liberties initiative meant to improve safety and policing in Lansing," Hank stated in a press release from earlier in the year.
More information on Lansing's drive to decriminalize marijuana can be found at their website: www.saferlansing.com/
It seems the only other candidate for a 2013 signature drive is Ypsilanti, where the city council is poised to reverse their own policy and cap the number of dispensaries allowed in the city. This ordinance has already passed first reading and could come up for a final vote in early August. The change in policy comes after a failed effort in June by council members to enact an emergency moratorium to accomplish the same thing, and those members were blunt about their intent to further curtail the current city policy regarding dispensaries.
"If Council is not acting upon the will of the people, the people will act to correct this," said Jamie Lowell, co-founder of Ypsilanti's 3rd Coast Compassion Center; his is a frequently-heard voice in Council meetings. "Look at all the different ways cities in Michigan have used to relax marijuana laws- medical marijuana, Lowest Law Enforcement Priority laws, full decriminalization, civil infraction tickets. All are overwhelmingly approved whenever the choice is given to the voters." Lowell cites Ypsilanti's own record as proof: in 2008 they voted to empower medical use of marijuana by an 83% margin, and in November 2012 they approved a LLEP measure by 74%.
Lowell and others have been meeting to discuss either a new ordinance or amending the City Charter by petition to decriminalize marijuana use and possession as Jackson has done. He confirmed that an appearance on the 2014 ballot is more likely, as the 2013 deadlines are fast approaching.
Town Hall Meeting Details:
Who: Jim Gierach, speaker from LEAP to be joined by Rep Jeff Irwin and Rep Mike Shirkey
When: 5-7pm, on Monday, August 14th, 2013
What: Town Hall Meeting to discuss Michigan HB 4623
Where: Grass Lake Township Hall, 373 Lakeside Dr, Grass Lake, MI 49240
Marla Rieli Braun, Office of State Representative Mike Shirkey
Source: The Compassion Chronicles