Michigan Initiative Effort to Rely on Volunteers, Enthusiasm 1/28/00

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Michigan defense attorney Greg Schmid has neither polling data nor money, but he has loads of enthusiasm and volunteers which he hopes will propel his marijuana legalization initiative, dubbed the Personal Responsibility Amendment (PRA), to a place on Michigan's ballot in November.

Instead of paying people to gather the 300,000 signatures he needs to put his initiative on the ballot, Schmid is relying on volunteers. If the volunteers can collect enough signatures, he said he may be able to raise enough money from supporters to fund a paid signature gathering effort to collect the rest.

The PRA calls for a constitutional amendment that would allow people to possess up to three marijuana plants or three ounces of marijuana within their homes, in a manner not readily accessible to minors. Schmid told The Week Online he got involved in drafting the initiative because of his concern over the increased numbers of arrests of marijuana users in the last few years. "We've seen a serious pattern since 1996 of a hard line against marijuana users," he said. "Prosecutors all over Michigan have turned to a policy of pressing felony charges for second offense simple possession of marijuana. By the fifth offense for simple possession, a person could face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years!"

But Schmid's initiative takes the concept of personal responsibility beyond the "right to use drugs" argument. It both "eliminates lawsuits based on any [medical] condition that is the direct and obvious results of a person's long term abuse of marijuana, tobacco or alcohol" and changes asset forfeiture laws so assets seized by police during drug busts will only be available for "personal responsibility education." Schmid's tack differs here from asset forfeiture reform initiatives in other states this year, where seized money would be directed to drug treatment and crime prevention programs.

If the PRA makes the ballot, Schmid predicts strong opposition from the state's attorney general's office, but hopes Michigan Governor John Engler to be sympathetic to the issue, because Engler drafted medical marijuana legislation years ago. More realistically, however, allies for Schmid's campaign could include the state's Libertarian Party and State Senator Mike Goschka.

If the initiative does pass, Schmid promises it will be "bulletproof" from state or federal interference. Because it is a constitutional amendment, he said, state legislators can't touch it, and because it specifies personal non- commercial use, the federal government will have no legal right to arrest marijuana smokers using the interstate commerce clause.

NORML National Director Keith Stroup agreed that the government would not be likely to interfere if the initiative passes, but for a different reason -- because it does not legalize the sale and distribution of marijuana. Unlike marijuana legalization efforts underway in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, the Michigan measure does not allow the sale of marijuana. "This is a model that should be able to withstand federal challenge, but not because of the interstate commerce clause," Stroup said.

Schmid said that so far, at least 1,500 people have volunteered to collect signatures for the PRA. "People are calling all day. I've never seen this kind of enthusiasm before," he said. The deadline for signature gathering is July 10.

To learn more about the Michigan Personal Responsibility Amendment, visit http://www.ballot2000.net.

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Issue #123, 1/28/00 Gore Drug Use Question Leads to More Questions | San Francisco Approves Plan to Issue ID Cards to Medical Cannabis Users -- Buyer's Club Seeks Business License | Britain: Shelter Workers Sentenced to Prison for Refusing to Inform on Clients | UK Police Report: Legalizing Drugs is Obvious Choice | Michigan Initiative Effort to Rely on Volunteers, Enthusiasm | Court Strikes Down Cincinnati Ban | Regaining the Vote: Sentencing Project Report Details State and Federal Activities | AlertS: Legislative Action in Maryland and Virginia | Anderson and Boje Cases Seeking Support | Editorial: A Not So Nutty Professor
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