Detroiters could vote as soon as August to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, following a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling Friday that found the city’s election commission acted improperly when it blocked the vote in 2010. A 2-1 majority of the appeals court panel said the Detroit Election Commission did not have the authority to thwart the proposal by Coalition for a Safer Detroit, which had collected sufficient petition signatures to force a vote. The commission’s decision was backed by Wayne County Circuit Court. Coalition leader Tim Beck called Friday “a great day for voters rights” and predicted Detroiters would approve the marijuana measure.
Under the proposal, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by an adult could not be prosecuted under city ordinance. Possession by someone other than a medical marijuana patient would remain illegal under state law. Officials could ask the state Supreme Court to review the decision.
Anti-drug war crusader gets closer to goal of decriminalizing pot in Detroit Tim Beck, a longtime soldier in the war against the war on drugs, said collecting signatures in summer 2010 to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in Detroit was “incredibly easy.”
Using those petitions to actually put the issue before city voters, not so much. But on Friday, Beck and the Coalition for a Safer Detroit may have finally gotten what they wanted when the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned a decision by the Detroit Election Commission to deny the proposal a spot on the ballot. The commission and a Wayne County judge said the proposal conflicted with state drug laws and, therefore, could not be put to a referendum. A 2-1 majority of the appeals panel said city officials lacked authority to make that determination.
“It was outside the authority of (city officials) to consider the substance and effect of the initiative, and defendants have a clear legal duty to place the matter on the ballot,” the court panel majority wrote. Judges Henry Saad and Elizabeth Gleicher said Michigan courts have found repeatedly that any alleged conflicts between ballot proposals and existing laws are to be decided after a proposal has been approved by voters. Appeals Judge Jane Markey dissented, saying it is “not within the constitutional authority” of voters to adopt an ordinance that conflicts with state law.
Voters in two other Michigan cities — Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo — have adopted local ordinances to decriminalize or de-emphasize the prosecution of adults possessing small amounts of marijuana. The proposal for Detroit would amend the city code to decriminalize the possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana by an adult. It would not change state law, which says possession by someone other than a medical marijuana patient is illegal.
A triumphant Beck said Friday that the Election Commission’s decision to deny ballot access and Wayne County Circuit Judge Michael Sapala’s affirmation of that decision was “total hocus-pocus.” The coalition used professional petition circulators to collect more than 7,000 signatures to qualify the issue for the ballot, Beck said. “We did everything right. Every I was dotted, every T, crossed,” he said. Timothy Knowlton, an attorney who represented the group in the appeal, said the city could seek a review at the state Supreme Court level or send the issue back to the Election Commission for a hearing on the ballot proposal’s language.
The City of Detroit lawyer who argued the case did not return a call for comment Friday. Reactions to the idea of the ballot issue were mixed among Detroiters. Jonathan Kinloch, 40, a resident of Midtown in Detroit and host of a radio show on WDTK-AM (1400), said he would vote no on a marijuana referendum. “Marijuana is already being abused, and Detroit is already challenged with drug abuse,” he said. “We have alcohol abuse. We have prescription-drug abuse. There’s nothing good that will come from legalizing marijuana.
“But I support the citizens’ right to decide this. I definitely don’t feel it should be kept off the ballot. I have no problem leading the charge against this.” On Friday night, Kinloch hosted Beck on his show and the two “got hot and heavy, and our callers got hot and heavy, too” in arguing the issue, Kinloch said. Aislinn Scofield, an Indian Village resident who moved to Detroit in 2011, said her vote on the issue would depend on how it’s worded.
“I guess part of me says, ‘We have all these debt problems. Maybe we should just legalize it and tax it,’ ” she said. “I, myself, am not a marijuana user, but I see people who handle it extremely well. I know people who’ve had cancer treatments and it helped them a lot.” Joe Romano, 63, of Detroit, who is retired, said people should get the right to vote on the issue. “It’s not like it would cost more to hold the election. It’s just another line on the ballot. But how much did the city spend trying to keep it off the ballot?”
Also, Romano noted, the amount of marijuana involved in the proposed ballot issue is small. “We’re not talking about drug dealers,” he said. “It’s just arresting someone with less than an ounce. What’s the point?” Meanwhile, a campaign began in January to put a constitutional amendment on Michigan’s November ballot that would legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana statewide by those 21 and older. Supporters hope to gather 332,000 signatures by July.
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