Marijuana Advocates Pushing Hard
Marijuana advocates are looking to decriminalize Michigan, one city at a time.
Weed possession in Michigan is currently a misdemeanor, as it is in most of the country. Offenders are subject to arrest, a fine of up to $1,000, and up to a year in jail, plus a permanent criminal record that can make it hard to rent, borrow money and find a job.
Such strict penalties for a common, minor, non-violent offense lead to unnecessary incarceration and are partly racial; African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at much higher rates than Caucasians. Fifteen states have decriminalized pot to respond to these problems.
Michigan has approved medical marijuana under very limited circumstances, but there are no statewide proposals for decriminalization on the table. Instead, proponents are tackling the issue city by city.
Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Detroit and Flint, Michigan, have all enacted ordinances decriminalizing pot. These laws make simple possession a civil infraction punishable by a small fine rather than a criminal offense. The city of Ypsilanti has enacted an ordinance instructing its police department to treat marijuana possession as its lowest priority.
These laws don’t make weed any less illegal in Michigan; state law always trumps municipal ordinance. But police are generally less likely to enforce a law when citizens have openly renounced it at the polls.
Now supporters of decriminalization are turning to two new towns, Ferndale and Jackson. Voters there will have a chance to decide this November whether they want their police to treat marijuana busts more like traffic tickets than criminal arrests. A similar petition is in the works in Lansing.
The Coalition for a Safer Michigan, a pro-marijuana group, is in charge of the petition drive. Tim Beck, the organization’s chairman, said they had enough signatures in both Ferndale and Jackson and nearly enough in Lansing.
“There is no doubt that we have enough signatures,” Beck said. “We have pre-verified every one of them. And our surveys show this is going to pass.”
The Ferndale petition had about 600 signatures but only needed 364. In Jackson, where 354 signatures were required, supporters gathered more than 550. If the petitions are approved by their respective city councils, they will appear on the November ballot.
In Lansing, supporters had more than 4,000 signatures at the end of July and needed another 200 by Aug. 6. Beck said his group hopes to turn victory in all three cities on election day into a tidal wave that will convince state legislators to change Michigan marijuana law.