A campaign to repeal marijuana prohibition in Michigan is getting ready to hit the streets with an army of volunteer signature-gatherers in a bid to put the issue before the voters in November. Campaign staffers said Tuesday state approval of final changes in the language of the proposed ballot initiative could come any day, and then petitioners will go to work.
Michigan state flag
"We are waiting for the Board of Canvassers to approve our language, and then we'll begin collecting signatures," said Brandy Zink, volunteer coordinator for the Committee for a Safer Michigan
. "We're organizing at this very moment, getting our volunteers lined up."
The campaign will have until July 9 to gather the more than 322,000 valid voter signatures it needs to make the November ballot.
The ballot initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment that would repeal the state's marijuana laws. The entire text of the amendment is as follows:
"For persons who are at least 21 years of age who are not incarcerated, marihuana acquisition, cultivation, manufacture, sale, delivery, transfer, transportation, possession, ingestion, presence in or on the body, religious, medical, industrial, agricultural, commercial or personal use, or possession or use of paraphernalia shall not be prohibited, abridged or penalized in any manner, nor subject to civil forfeiture; provided that no person shall be permitted to operate an aircraft, motor vehicle, motorboat, ORV, snowmobile, train, or other heavy or dangerous equipment or machinery while impaired by marihuana."
If the initiative were to pass, Michigan's marijuana laws would be rendered unconstitutional, and it would be "immediately incumbent on the legislature to repeal these mentions of marihuana throughout the criminal laws and infractions," the campaign said. The campaign would then ask the legislature to adopt sensible taxes and regulations, but believes "they'll beat us to it."
The campaign also argues that repealing the marijuana laws is within the purview of individual states and would not create a conflict with federal law that could preempt repeal. "The state of Michigan has the sovereign power to adopt and amend a constitution and both pass and repeal laws concerning everything not specifically reserved to the federal government," the campaign argues.
The repeal initiative is largely a response to the intense hostility with which some segments of Michigan law enforcement, led by Attorney General Bill Schuette (R), have reacted to the state's medical marijuana law, approved by 63% of the voters in 2008. Schuette, who sees the medical marijuana law as a cover for drug dealing, used a 2010 appeals court ruling that some sales of medical marijuana at dispensaries were illegal to declare that all dispensaries were illegal, unleashing a round of raids on dispensaries.
Last June, Schuette struck again against medical marijuana, issuing an opinion that: "The possession of marijuana remains illegal under federal law, even if it is possessed for medicinal purposes in accordance with the state law."
That has led to doctors across the state refusing to sign medical marijuana recommendations for fear of prosecution, which in turn has led to a tightening of access for patients. The supply situation has been further aggravated by actions in more than 60 Michigan counties or cities to restrict or ban medical marijuana. Just last month, an Oakland County circuit court judge ruled against a Birmingham couple who, with the help of the ACLU, had sued to overturn bans in several Oakland County communities.
"Our amendment is directed at the abject failure of marijuana prohibition, and also the interference by state officials with implementing our medical marijuana law and their increased aggression against patients and caregivers," said campaign spokesperson Charmie Gholson.
She accused the state law enforcement establishment of plotting to undo the will of the voters by going through the courts.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose war on medical marijuana sparked the initiative campaign
"When the people of Michigan overwhelmingly passed that law, the prohibitionists knew they would need a supermajority to amend it because it was voter-initiated," Gholson said. "What we see them doing is arresting people anyway in hostile areas throughout the state, then the judge would rule against them, then the prosecutor would appeal. They're working these cases up to the conservatively-stacked state Supreme Court."
Zink, too, cited the hostile response of law enforcement, the Michigan courts, and Attorney General Schuette to the state's voter approved medical marijuana law as the motive force behind the initiative campaign.
"The medical cannabis community and others here are concerned about this issue in part because of abuse of our law here by law enforcement and our attorney general," said Zink. "We've been holding meetings since October trying to come up with ways to resolve this, and after much debate and deep thought, we decided to just end cannabis prohibition in Michigan."
For the time being, at least, the campaign is relying on volunteers to get the signatures. That's a tough task when you need more than 322,000 valid signatures, but the campaign is undaunted.
"Right now, it's an all-volunteer effort, and it's going well," said Zink. "Our web site has been up for less than two weeks, and we've got volunteers recruited in nearly every county. It's a very dedicated and passionate group of people. "The community is fairly unified," Zink said. "Everyone has fought really hard for what we have, and some are a bit fearful of a backlash from law enforcement and the attorney general. But we're already being attacked by them anyway, and we've decided we have to fight for what is right."
It takes money to run an initiative campaign and pretty big money to run anything other than an all-volunteer campaign in a state the size of Michigan. The campaign is currently engaged in fundraising at the state level and hints that it may seek outside support as well.
"We're working on fundraising and hoping people will make contributions to the Committee for a Safer Michigan," Zink said. "We're doing our best right here in Michigan, and while we would love outside support, we haven't actively sought it… yet."
Using the initiative process, Michigan was the first state in the Midwest to legalize medical marijuana. Now, it could become the first state in the country to repeal pot prohibition, but only if the Committee for a Safer Michigan manages to make the ballot in the first place, and then to convince Michigan voters to pass their initiative.