Proponents of legalizing marijuana in Michigan said they’re excited about reaching the next big step — getting proposals on the November ballot in Ferndale and elsewhere to make possession of marijuana no worse than getting a traffic ticket.
“I have 600 signatures here,” Andrew Cissell, 25, of Ferndale said Tuesday morning as he pushed a pile of petitions across the counter at Ferndale City Hall to City Clerk Cherilynn Brown. That was almost double the number the proposal needed to qualify for the November ballot, Brown said.
“We will check these and then present them to City Council on Aug. 12,” Brown told Cissell, as a crowd of supporters watched.
“To me, this is a no-brainer. If alcohol’s legal, I think marijuana should be, too,” Cissell said. A similar scene unfolded Tuesday in Jackson, where petitions were handed in for a similar proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, said Tim Beck, 61, of Detroit. He is chairman of the Safer Michigan Coalition.
“We have preverified every signature, and our surveys (of voters) show this is going to pass,” said Beck, a retired CEO of an employee health insurance firm. Beck has spent more than a decade championing the legalization of marijuana.
Elsewhere in Ferndale City Hall, Police Chief Tim Collins called the political campaign “a waste of time.” Possession of the drug is still illegal under state law, “and the law’s the law,” he said.
“I think if this passes, it’ll just give us a bit of a black eye in metro Detroit,” he said. But supporters of the proposal, including former Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey, said that ordinances passed elsewhere have shifted policing from marijuana infractions to more serious crimes.
“We should not waste resources on adults doing something in the privacy of their own homes. Our police need to focus on the hundreds of unsolved property crimes in Ferndale,” Covey said, after handing in 17 signatures he said he’d collected himself.
“This is nothing radical,” he added. Similar decriminalization laws are effect in 17 states and in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Ypsilanti, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, according to the website of the Marijuana Policy Project, a lobby group for legalization.
Besides Ferndale and Jackson, supporters say they hope that Lansing will approve decriminalization. Petition circulators have until next Tuesday to collect 4,200 signatures and have gathered more than 4,000, supporters said. Once the signatures are validated by city clerks, each of the three city councils then has a choice — either to pass the proposal or let it appear on November ballots for voters to decide, supporters said.
Once approved, the proposals would put city ordinances on the books that reduce possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana on private property to a civil infraction, far less serious than the current misdemeanor charge, which is punishable by up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
The group’s goal is to achieve “a clean sweep on Election Day” — victories in all three cities, said Chuck Ream, 66, of Ann Arbor. That might be enough to nudge state lawmakers into passing a bill to make the same decriminalization change go statewide, said Ream, a retired kindergarten teacher who wore a blazer and tie to the Ferndale gathering.
“The only opposition we have now is from the prison-industrial complex — all the people who have jobs in the war on drugs,” Ream said.
Most political support is from liberals, but some Republicans have signed on, including State Rep. Mike Shirkey of Clarklake in Jackson County. Shirkey is one of two Republican cosponsors of a bill in the state House that would decriminalize possession of the drug.
“On most subjects, I’m deemed to be at the conservative end of the spectrum,” Shirkey said Tuesday. “But based on an analysis of data, we are not winning this — if you want to call it a ‘war’ — this effort to reduce recreational use of marijuana, and we’re expending a lot of resources on it,” Shirkey said.
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