Pubdate: Wed, 16 Nov 2011
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Copyright: 2011 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


And Kalamazoo Voters, in Chater Amendment Question, Holding Firm

To legalize marijuana in Michigan or to decriminalize it, that is the 
question. Whether it is nobler in the state to suffer the indignity 
and second-class citizenship of decriminalization, or to take up arms 
and fight for full legalization.

The fight over medical marijuana in Michigan is truly Shakespearian, 
with opposing sides both believing they are right, a menacing federal 
government hanging in the shadows and ground skirmishes in the foreground.

The most recent salvo was fired by state Attorney General Bill 
Schuette, who seems to be making medical marijuana his own personal 
battle. Last week he issued an opinion, in reply to a question from 
Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant), asking whether authorities who 
have arrested a patient or caregiver who is subsequently released 
must then return the marijuana to the patient or caregiver. 
Schuette's answer was an emphatic no. That seems to be his answer to 
anything pertaining to lightening up on marijuana prohibition - no, 
no, no, and again no. Schuette, while a state appellate court judge 
in 2008, was a leader of the opposition to the Michigan Medical 
Marihuana Act. He lost that battle but apparently feels he can win 
the war. Someone should tell him that the war on drugs was a losing 
proposition from the start.

Another instance of his ongoing activism against medical marijuana is 
his joining a suit by Macomb County's Chesterfield Township to 
attempt to close down Big Daddy's Chesterfield Hydroponics and 
Compassion Club. The township wants Circuit Court Judge John Foster 
to find that Big Daddy's is a public nuisance and have it shut down. 
Rick "Big Daddy" Ferris, his adult daughter Stephanie Ferris and two 
others also face charges stemming from a January raid at their 
now-closed Oak Park facility.

Schuette seems to be trying his hardest to put the marijuana genie 
back into the bottle. But voters came out for the MMMA decisively at 
the ballot box and have continued to support it in public opinion polls.

Last week, Kalamazoo voters again made their sentiments clear in a 
vote on the Lowest Law Enforcement Priority (LLEP) amendment to the 
Kalamazoo City Charter that would make possession of an ounce or less 
of marijuana by an adult the lowest priority for law enforcement to 
pursue. Schuette claimed that the amendment was illegal and asked 
Gov. Rick Snyder to reject it during the charter amendment review 
process because it was a contrary to state law. In spite of 
Schuette's efforts, the charter amendment was placed on the ballot in 
Kalamazoo and voters approved it with an overwhelming 65 percent of the vote.

"I'm so proud of the city of Kalamazoo for passing the lowest law 
enforcement priority charter amendment," says Rick Thompson, of the 
Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine and a spokesman for Big Daddy's. 
"At a time when we've had a long negative public relations campaign 
against medical marijuana, for one community in the state it means 
that the conservative side is losing the public relations war even 
though they have a vast resource advantage over our side."

Kalamazoo attorney John Targowski, a co-writer of the LLEP amendment, 
was pleased but less effusive.

"The attorney general had an opinion that it wasn't a good idea, but 
he didn't have any power to stop it," Targowski says. "The city 
attorney chimed in as well. I think this is part of a broader 
conversation about allocating government resources. ... People are 
tired of being dictated to by the government."

They may be tired, but there are others who stand adamantly opposed 
to marijuana use and aren't ready to budge. Kalamazoo Public Safety 
Chief Jeff Hadley had this to say the day after the election: "The 
charter amendment only has an impact on city ordinances, which we do 
not have any existing city ordinances relative to the possession or 
use of marijuana, and we still have every obligation to enforce state 
and federal laws."

In other words, tough noogies, I'm not listening to you.

That kind of attitude has led to discussions among pro-marijuana 
activists across the state about getting a citizens initiative on the 
ballot for next November's election - however, they are split on how 
far to go and how quickly. Some see the 65 percent of Kalamazoo 
voters who support the amendment as a sign that the time is right to 
shoot for full legalization on next year's ballot - a 
strike-while-the-iron-is-hot approach. Others advise a slower 
approach that would put the question on a later ballot such as 2016. 
Some just want voters to add language allowing dispensaries to the 
MMMA. Others favor decriminalization instead of legalization.

The Kalamazoo result "is good news," says Detroit attorney Matt Abel 
of the Cannabis Counsel law firm. "It's even more evidence that the 
citizens of Michigan desire an end to the war on marijuana. We're 
mindful it is Kalamazoo; it is a college town. Kalamazoo has somewhat 
of a liberal reputation, but it was an overwhelming show of support. 
So it's reassuring that the citizens not only want medical marijuana, 
they want marijuana legal generally. They see that the drug war has 
failed and this is a really harmful policy and the sooner we change 
it the better. The debate we're having now is how far to try to 
change it. There are several competing drives and it could cause them 
all to fail."

Abel says he is not sure which route to take, but there is certainly 
a lot of fuel to fire up the arguments. A poll commissioned by Ben 
Horner, publisher of the monthly Michigan Medical Marijuana Report, 
found that about 57 percent of Michiganders support decriminalization 
and about 50 percent support full legalization. That's in line with 
an October Gallup poll which found that 50 percent of Americans 
support decriminalization of marijuana, while 46 percent oppose it. 
That's the highest amount of support for decriminalization since 
Gallup began polling on the subject in 1969.

Regardless of the goal of a petition initiative, it will be a tight 
schedule to get it done. Petition initiatives need to gather all of 
their signatures within six months of the kickoff. To be on the 
November ballot, petitions are due May 30. That means collecting 
signatures largely during the winter when it is most difficult. On 
the other hand, with about 100,000 registered medical marijuana 
patients in the state, it won't be that hard to get the 258,088 valid 
signatures needed to put the question on the ballot; if patients 
gather 10 signatures each, there'd be plenty of margin for error. 
Figure the rising power of social media, and it seems that this could 
be a less expensive undertaking than passage of the MMMA, which cost 
about $1.5 million. But once on the ballot, pro-pot campaigners face 
a public relations battle with Schuette and others with many resources at hand.

Ultimately, it's a question for voters to answer. So I'm calling the 
question to readers: Do you think there should be a new petition 
drive? For decriminalization? For legalization? Please let us know 
what you think - respond via email or snail mail, or leave a comment 
with the Web version of this column at Let your voice be heard.

My last column discussed former Detroit Police Chief Isaiah "Ike" 
McKinnon coming out in support of legalizing marijuana. It has since 
come to my attention that before becoming chief of police here in 
2002, Jerry Oliver wrote an op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch 
decrying law enforcement's costly focus on drug crimes. Oliver left 
office in 2003, in Detroit after he left a loaded gun in his airport 
luggage. Did Detroit miss a progressive opportunity there?
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart