Eleven More Michigan Cities Could Legalize Small Amounts Of Pot On Nov. 4

Oct 28, 2014

On Election Day, eleven Michigan cities will consider legalizing small amounts of marijuana.

Safer Michigan Coalition Executive Director Chuck Ream is leading the effort to legalize small amounts of cannabis in eleven Michigan communities. Voters in Oak Park and Hazel Park already approved ballot measures in August. Questions will not appear on ballots in East Lansing, Utica, Portage, or Benzie County - despite what the shirt says.
Credit mprn Jake Neher

That’s the largest number of municipalities to consider the question in a single election in Michigan. And as The Michigan Public Radio Network’s Jake Neher reports, marijuana advocates think they can win all of them on November Fourth.

Chuck Ream is the guy working to bring a pro-marijuana law to a city near you. He directs the Safer Michigan Coalition – which is organizing all of these local ballot campaigns.

He expects this to be a banner year for the proposals – despite not being able to actively promote them.

“We can’t do much campaigning because we don’t have much money,” he says.  “But we expect them to win. And we expect them to win because they’re kind of like polls rather than campaigns. We’re measuring what the people already think.”

The measures would make it legal for someone over the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana on private property. Communities that will consider the question on November Fourth range from urban centers such as Saginaw - to rural communities like Lapeer – and middle-class suburbs like Berkley.

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In Downtown Berkley, Alex Hale says he plans to vote in favor of the proposal. He says cities are spending too much time and money enforcing ineffective anti-marijuana laws.

“It makes the black market for it fairly high,” he says.  “If you were to actually make it legalized and actually properly tax it, you’d make the government quite a bit of money and you could use it for better things instead of what they’re currently doing.”

Despite growing public sentiment in favor of relaxing marijuana laws, most law enforcement groups are pushing hard against the proposals.

Terry Jungel directs the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

“I think it’s economically and emotionally driven, which are two really bad reasons to be making decisions on anything dealing with public safety issues,” he says.

Jungel believes the ordinances would lead to more people using marijuana. He says that would result in more illegal activity like driving while intoxicated – which would actually cost taxpayers more. And he points out it would still be illegal under state and federal law.

“And I would submit that passing a local ordinance serves only to make a local unit of government a co-conspirator in a federal crime,” he says.

More than a dozen other Michigan cities have already passed marijuana decriminalization or legalization measures in recent years. So what’s happening in those places?

Edward Klobucher is the city manager of Hazel Park – which legalized small amounts of cannabis in the August primary. He says not much has changed, and he doesn’t expect it to.

“Folks using small amounts of marijuana for recreational purposes in the privacy of their own home, well, that’s really never been a very high priority for enforcement in Hazel Park,” he says.  “So it really hasn’t made much of a difference for us here.”

And Klobucher says he doesn’t think that’s the point of these local ballot initiatives anyway.

“I think that these ballot initiatives are primary motivated by activists that want to send a message to our state and federal policymakers that it’s time to act on legalization of marijuana,” he says.

If the local ballot measures do well, some pro-marijuana activists say the next logical step is to put marijuana legalization on the statewide ballot in 2016. But Chuck Ream with the Safer Michigan Coalition isn’t so sure.

“The reason we do what we do is because we don’t have the money to do anything more,” he says.  “When the money shows up, we can do something more. But it might be 2020 or even later before we can really get legalization in Michigan.”

Despite the lack of funds, pro-marijuana groups have a reason to be optimistic. They’ve put 16 measures on local ballots in recent years – and they haven’t lost a vote once.