The Michigan drug reform initiative went down in flames this week when the Michigan Supreme Court declined to reverse decisions by the Michigan Board of Canvassers and a lower court to keep the drug reform amendment off the ballot. The initiative was brought down after foes discovered and exploited a technical problem in the initiative's language. The Michigan Campaign for New Drug Policies' amendment called for the creation of a new section to an article of the state constitution. Opponents charged and the board and courts found that such a section would conflict with a section already in the constitution, and hence did not comply with Michigan law.
The ruling is a severe blow to the Michigan Campaign and a setback to its parent group, the Campaign for New Drug Policies (http://www.drugreform.org), which had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars during the petition-gathering phase of the campaign. CNDP was tight-lipped after the ruling, declining comment and referring reporters to a written press statement.
"Today we lost a battle, and the people of Michigan lost as well," said Michigan Campaign spokeswoman Maia J. Storm in the press release. "While we are disappointed, the need for major overhaul of Michigan's drug laws remains."
While reluctant to address what went wrong, the Campaign vowed to keep pressing for drug law reform in Michigan and threatened to mount another initiative effort if Michigan lawmakers failed to act.
"The pressure for reform cannot be turned away," said Storm. "If legislators will not take this issue into their own hands, they invite another effort to remake Michigan's drug sentencing laws at the ballot box. Absent real legislative reforms, we will try everything we can to return to the ballot at a later election. The pressure is on those who most feared the voice of the people," said Storm, referring to the coalition of Michigan and national drug warriors who came together in a possibly illegal effort to influence Michigan voters against the initiative. "If they continue to push off reform to some other day, the people will have their say."
2002 is proving to be a tough year for drug reform initiative efforts. A similar CNDP initiative planned for Florida this year was knocked out by questionable rulings or delaying tactics in the state courts, as was a local medical marijuana initiative in Detroit. As noted elsewhere in this issue, the Seattle marijuana initiative also appears unlikely to make it onto the ballot. The CNDP "treatment not jail" initiative in Ohio remains on track, as do the pair of independent South Dakota initiatives, one on industrial hemp and one on whether defendants will be allowed to argue the merits and applicability of the law in criminal cases. Nevada's marijuana reform initiative is also a go, as is a highly cautious treatment not jail initiative in Washington, DC and a decrim measure in Arizona. The DC medical marijuana initiative awaits a ruling on a challenge brought by the Marijuana Policy Project to the improper rejection by the Board of Elections of thousands of valid signatures.
But Michigan and Florida, as well as the failed local initiatives, make clear that drug reform foes are scared and are resorting to any tactics they can to prevent voters from having a chance to change the drug laws. Ain't nothin' fair about that kind of political hardball, and the drug reform movement should respond accordingly.