Voters in East Lansing, Mich., gave the local marijuana reform movement a shot in the arm in early May when they passed a decriminalization ordinance.

Push to Decriminalize MichiganThe law, passed by East Lansing voters May 5, removes all penalties on marijuana possession and effectively legalizes the drug at the local level. Adults over 21 may now possess up to 1 ounce of pot on private property without hassle from local ordinances.

But the move doesn’t free East Lansing from state law, which bans marijuana for non-medical uses. If they choose, local cops could continue to enforce the state law and make arrests for simple possession.

But they probably won’t. Other examples of local decriminalization suggest that once voters have spoken, it’s very hard for police to continue to justify the resources needed to prosecute stoners. Mostly they just stop bothering – even the ones who aren’t happy to admit it.

Pot proponents praised the move

Local cannabis activists praised the vote, saying it should signal to state leaders that the time for weed reform has come.

“We are pleased the voters supported us tonight,” said Jeffrey Hank, an East Lansing lawyer who leads the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Reform Initiative. “It’s very clear with the results tonight . . . [that] the conversation should start tomorrow with Gov. Snyder and the legislature on a reasonable plan to legalize, tax and regulate cannabis in Michigan.”

More than a dozen Michigan cities have passed legalization ordinances, whether by city council vote or public referendum. Neighboring Lansing voted in 2013 to remove penalties for marijuana possession.

That makes Michigan the center of a quiet but increasingly successful movement to legalize from the ground up. Most efforts at reform focus on statewide votes and legislatures; the Michigan campaign is strictly local – so far.

Local change will lead to wider reform

Potted Marijuana PlantsThe idea is that enough municipal victories, whether in the Wolverine State or elsewhere, will encourage wider reform. First East Lansing, next Michigan, and finally the nation.

The local-legal movement has also had victories in other states, most notably Maine, where the capital city of Portland legalized pot in 2013.

The new law in East Lansing still bars marijuana use by minors, public cannabis consumption, and possession or use on the campus of Michigan State University.

Weed is already legal for medical use in Michigan, where voters approved it by a wide margin in 2008. But the program has been rocky since its inception, with a court ruling banning dispensaries and local officials intent on destroying it.

Still, many advocates consider Michigan the best bet for legalization in the Midwest. Support is strong, and the presence of MMJ makes it more likely recreational pot reform could work there.

But it may take even more local wins before that happens. In the meantime, the people of East Lansing can rest assured that no one is coming for that lid they keep in the cookie jar.


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