Saginaw attorney Greg Schmid is at it again. Last year, his all-volunteer effort to legalize marijuana through Michigan's initiative and referendum process never made it to the ballot, falling well short of the 302,000 voter signatures to qualify. But Schmid is back, and this time he thinks he can pull it off.
Schmid has a new, improved, four-part Personal Responsibility Amendment this year, which would legalize hemp, medical marijuana, and personal marijuana use and possession by adults, and would direct asset forfeiture funds away from law enforcement and into drug and alcohol treatment programs.
If he succeeds, it will be a first. No legalization initiative has yet led to victory at the polls, and even other drug reform initiatives, such as medical marijuana, asset forfeiture reform, and sentencing reform have generally succeeded only when well-seeded with money, especially in states as populous as Michigan. And the really big money deemed necessary to win such initiatives is only provided by the famous troika of drug reform philanthropists, George Soros, Peter Lewis, and John Sperling, who have made it clear that they consider legalization too far ahead of the political curve to merit funding.
Schmid is aware of the record and wishes the big money would come around, but he tells DRCNet that he expects to do it with volunteers and small donations. And he gives Soros and his ilk credit. "For me or against me, those are the people who made marijuana a word people could hear and not shudder," he said. "If not for their medical marijuana initiatives, we would still be where we were a decade ago," Schmid conceded.
"But I think those big groups listen to their political consultants too much," he told DRCNet. "Still, if not for them, I couldn't do what I'm doing. I owe them a huge debt, and I wish they would reconsider their stand on legalization initiatives."
Schmid, who has now become the head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law's (NORML) Michigan chapter, will be getting support from the national organization.
NORML executive director Keith Stroup told DRCNet the national group would do what it could to help.
"I'll be going up to Ann Arbor for the PRA forum and the Hash Bash," Stroup said, "and national will do whatever we can, but realistically, we don't have the resources to hire people to collect signatures and we'll have to do this as a volunteer effort."
So why would a volunteer effort succeed this time around? Schmid has some answers.
"First off, we have a better time frame," Schmid said. "Last year our six-month window for gathering petitions ran from January to July, so we got three months of hard, Michigan winter, and we missed the summer festivals. This year, we're using April to October, which gives us the benefit of good weather, leaves us 13 months to campaign after the petition drive, and leaves open the opportunity to extend the drive if we're close, but not quite there."
"Second, we now have seasoned petitioners," Schmid continued. "Last year, they were all novice petitioners and many had never before been engaged in the political process. Now they are trained and seasoned. And the fact that we got 151,000 signatures last time has been a lesson both to the people who were overconfident and to those who doubted. With concerted effort, it is doable."
His volunteer list has mushroomed from 1,000 to 3,000, Schmid told DRCNet, and he is building local NORML chapters as a base for the petition drive, but again the conversation turns to funding.
"Our needs are modest," Schmid maintained. "We pay for mailings, but not for signatures; we have high-priced consultants, but we just don't pay them. I hope and expect national groups will help to the extent they can, but we're relying on the money and efforts of thousands of people, $50 here, $100 there."
But, his tone turning steely, Schmid had a message for the big boys. "Once we earn our way onto the ballot, if we were to lose a general election with 13 months to prepare because the people with the money wouldn't stand by us, then I think those groups' constituencies would have something to say to them."
The PRA 2001 petition drive gets underway in less than a month in Ann Arbor with a National Symposium on Cannabis Prohibition Reform on Friday, April 6, and the 30th annual Hash Bash starting at noon the next day.
Information on the PRA initiative can be found at http://www.prayes.com online, or call the Schmid Law Office, (517) 799-4641.