Detroit ballot fight: Pot as political football
After court of appeals loss, city tries again to keep the question from voters
Published: February 22, 2012
"We're going to ask for costs," says Beck. "We never planned to do that until this level. We never put a demand for compensation for our legal fees, but we're going to do it now."
Beyond Detroit, activists in at least a few other Michigan cities (including Flint) have put or are trying to put Lowest Law Enforcement Priority (LLEP) ordinance initiatives on upcoming ballots. LLEPs direct police to give their lowest priority to marijuana possession. Meanwhile, there is a state constitution amendment initiative to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana statewide.
Beyond Michigan, activists in at least eight states have put the question of legalization on upcoming ballots or are in the process of trying to do so. Meanwhile, two governors (Christine Gregoire, D-Wash., and Lincoln Chaffee, R-R.I.) have petitioned the federal government to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug, which would allow its medical use under federal law.
With all this going on, it might seem that a vote in Detroit isn't that big a deal. But Dan Riffle, legislative analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, disagrees.
"It's significant," he says. "Legally and practically it's not going to change much. But to have the majority of voters in the biggest city in Michigan say the possession of a small amount of marijuana should not be a criminal offense, this says a lot about how far politicians are behind the people on this issue. The voters of Detroit ought to have the right to say that."
And Detroiters probably will, in August ... or November. The bottom line is that anti-prohibition activists in Detroit and elsewhere are no longer playing defense. They've grabbed the ball, no matter how slippery, and have a clear view of the goal line. The defense may stall things by beating an ordinance here or there. But in the long run, as public opinions steadily change, marijuana activists are certain to score.
> Email Larry Gabriel