Tuesday’s election is the first in Michigan and first across the nation to reflect a widespread movement in the change of attitudes on the issue of legalizing marijuana.
Residents will vote on ballot measures to significantly amend marijuana laws in four states — Alaska, California, Florida and Oregon — as well as in Washington, D.C., and numerous cities and counties around the country.
In politics, as in so many other things, the rule is: Follow the money.
“This is the first election ever when people with big money are getting involved with pro-marijuana candidates and the ballot issues” to legalize medical marijuana, said Chuck Ream, 67, of Ann Arbor.
“Most of our campaign people were unpaid volunteers, and we’re spending nothing on the usual things — no billboards, no flyers, no TV or radio ads,” he said.
In several communities, where more than enough voters signed petitions to get marijuana proposals on city ballots, local officials mounted legal challenges and the Safer Michigan Coalition ran out of money to respond in court, said Tim Beck, 62, of Detroit, a retired health insurance executive who bankrolled some legal fees.
Despite those setbacks, marijuana proposals will be on ballots in Clare, Frankfort, Harrison, Lapeer, Mt. Pleasant, Onaway, Port Huron and Saginaw. In metro Detroit, proposals will be on ballots in three neighboring cities of southeast Oakland County.
In Berkley and Huntington Woods, the wording is almost identical: Should voters replace local ordinances that make marijuana possession a criminal offense with one allowing possession of small amounts of marijuana by those 21 and older, on non-public private property? In Pleasant Ridge, which has no local marijuana ban, the ordinance asks whether to make possession and use of marijuana the town’s “lowest law enforcement priority.”
Ferndale residents voted last year to allow possession of small amounts. Similar proposals passed in August in Hazel Park and Oak Park. The change in attitudes toward marijuana is a worry to supporters of the Tri-Community Coalition, a substance-abuse prevention group in Berkley, Huntington Woods and Oak Park.
“Hopefully, people will vote no and this issue will die,” said Executive Director Judy Rubin.
“I don’t want to see any marijuana use in our communities,” Rubin said.
And opponents question whether such ordinances are more than mere symbolism.
Ferndale Police Chief Tim Collins said the proposal’s passage didn’t change anything in his department, where officers now follow the state law that still forbids marijuana possession.
Yet, each time a city’s voters approve one of the proposals, it shows state legislators that Michigan is ready for a statewide law to ease marijuana penalties, Beck said.
“We’ve never lost one of these elections,” he added.
Meanwhile, more candidates are speaking out on marijuana, prompting some pro-cannabis voters to split their tickets.
A bill that would let communities choose whether to allow medical marijuana shops, sponsored by state Rep. Michael Callton, R-Nashville, was overwhelmingly approved by the House in December by a 95-14 vote and could come up for Senate approval in the lame-duck session of the state Legislature this fall, Thompson said.
By Bill Laitner
Detroit Free Press