Lansing , Michigan – ballot update 

A proposal on the ballot in East Lansing May 5 would repeal the city’s marijuana laws and allow the use, possession and transfer of up to 1 ounce of the drug on private property by people 21 and older

Advocates of marijuana decriminalization, like East Lansing lawyer and activist Jeffrey Hank, are sometimes surprised at how far their efforts have come. “That is quite an interesting picture of the times we live in, when sensible marijuana law reform is agreed on by everyone and is the least controversial subject on the ballot,” Hank wrote in an e-mail. “Fifteen or 20 years ago that would have been unthinkable.” One of three proposals on the May 5 ballot for East Lansing voters would repeal the city’s marijuana laws and allow the use, possession and transfer of up to 1 ounce of the drug on private property by people 21 and older. Lansing voters approved a similar amendment in 2013 and numerous cities across the state have passed decriminalization measures, including Detroit, Ferndale and Kalamazoo. The measure would not permit use in public or anywhere on the Michigan State University campus, which is governered by the MSU Board of Trustees. Hank, who chairs a group called the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Reform Initiative, is among those who believe the drug will be legal across Michigan by 2016. His group is one of three preparing ballot proposals for the November 2016 ballot. In the meantime, Hank said he’s heard “only positive” feedback from the more than 16 communities statewide that have decriminalized marijuana, including better relationships with police.

“Police are able to focus on serious crimes,” Hank wrote in an e-mail, “and not upset a majority of the public who don’t believe in marijuana laws being enforced as they currently are.” Mayor Nathan Triplett says he supports decriminalization as a matter of public policy.

“I also think doing it by local charter amendment is a terrible way to go about doing this,” he said, “because it creates a lot of confusion and conflict of law.” The best way to fix things, Triplett said, is for state or federal officials to do it.

However, “I have no illusions that either the … Legislature or Congress will act on this at any point in the near future.” Marijuana arrests are rarely a primary offense for the East Lansing Police Department.Deputy Police Chief Jeff Murphy said most possession arrests in the city are because of other offenses such as when a motorist is pulled over for speeding and the officer smells the drug in the car. Murphy said there have been 23 arrests for possession since July 1 by the department, or just over two per month.

The city’s current ordinance calls for a $25 fine and community service of not more than 45 days for a first possession of marijuana offense, and a $100 fine and community service of up to 90 days for a second offense.
If the measure passes, Murphy is concerned people may believe a ‘yes’ vote means legalization.

Officers have full discretion to enforce state law, he said, but could no longer make an arrest under local ordinance.

If the issue weren’t complex enough already, Murphy pointed out the purchase and transport of marijuana remains largely illegal.

“You still have to buy it, and it still has to get to your house,” he said.
In contrast to drunken driving arrests, of which there have been 187 since July 1, Murphy said his officers do not “actively look” for people who have marijuana.

“We don’t go door-to-door looking for people using marijuana in their own homes. It’s largely a secondary infraction,” Murphy said.
“My biggest concern is people will just have a false sense that marijuana is legal.”

The proposal was originally scheduled to be on the November ballot, but the decision by the state legislature to place Proposal 1 on the May ballot prompted East Lansing city council members to move up the vote.
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