Organizers of a municipal initiative that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults handed in 6,000 signatures to the Detroit City Clerk Wednesday. They need only 3,700 valid signatures to make the ballot, so they have a quite comfortable cushion.
According to the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, which is spearheaded by long-time local activist Tim Beck and which organized the signature-gathering drive, more than 1,500 people were arrested for simple marijuana possession in Detroit last year. The group also reports that Detroit police have begun issuing "civil citations" for marijuana possession and seizing vehicles or other property owned by pot smokers. This asset seizure, which is done without a hearing, forces the ticketed person to pay large sums -- fines, towing and storage fees -- to retrieve the seized property -- and the "civil citation" is recorded as a misdemeanor on his criminal record.
The initiative would amend the city code to exempt from arrest or prosecution "the use or possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, on private property, by anyone who has attained the age of 21 years."
Passage of the initiative would not necessarily end pot possession arrests in Detroit. Detroit police could still charge marijuana users under state law if they so desired. But passage of the initiative would send a clear message to police, prosecutors, the city council, and the mayor that voters do not want their law enforcement resources wasted on minor pot busts.