Greg Schmid is no dreamer. An attorney from a prominent family in his hometown of Saginaw, he has a long history of successfully getting things done in the pragmatic world of electoral politics. His father, Allan, wrote the language for the first term limit initiative in the nation, passed by the voters of Michigan in 1992. Greg himself has been a driving force behind both the term limits initiative and the Tax Limitation Amendment, passed by Michigan voters in 1978. When it comes to changing state law at the ballot box, Greg Schmid knows exactly what it takes.
But in 1999, when Schmid proposed PRA 2000, the Personal Responsibility Amendment, it appeared that perhaps this proud libertarian had let his past success cloud his political judgment. After all, term limits are one thing, but the outright legalization of marijuana for private, personal use is quite another.
The amendment, as written, would make it legal for any Michigan adult (21 or older) to possess up to three ounces of processed marijuana, plus three mature plants, in the privacy of his or her own home. Marijuana must be kept secure and out of the sight of any minor. Marijuana for medicinal use could also be possessed, under a doctor's supervision, at any location outside the home, where a patient is residing for the purposes of bona-fide treatment.
But the legalization of marijuana is just part of the equation.
"The amendment will also take the corruptive influence out of asset forfeiture by redirecting seized assets out of the hands of the people who are seizing them, namely, the police," said Schmid. Section "D" of the amendment reads, in part:
Seized funds or assets "shall not be used for or by state or local law enforcement agencies or for any purpose other than voluntary Personal Responsibility Education Programs for domestic violence, gambling, drug, alcohol, and tobacco abuse awareness and treatment."
Without money for polling, and therefore without any solid evidence of likely success save his own intuitive understanding of the Michigan voting public, Greg Schmid began making calls looking for backers. He knew then that he was unlikely to find much help, but he was prepared to go it alone, at least to start.
"The national organizations that have helped out with initiatives in other states have limited resources. I understand that," says Schmid. "When you have limited resources and you are trying to instigate systemic change, you have to deploy those very carefully.
"We need 302,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. More like 400,000 really, when you factor in a percentage of the signatures that will be declared invalid. Conventional wisdom says that you need a huge budget, somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.2 million in order to pay people to collect those. So I needed to find some leverage to allow us to succeed against the conventional wisdom."
A savvy political organizer, Schmid recognized the potential of the Internet to turn what would have once been a lost cause into a nearly unstoppable political machine.
"I knew that unlike taxes or term limits, marijuana was an issue that incites people's passions," Schmid said. My feeling was that if we could get enough committed volunteers, we could train, equip and organize them through the web site and e-mail. Well, I never could have imagined how right I was."
Schmid said the organization, the Personal Responsibility Amendment Committee, of which he is director, now has more than 2,000 volunteers.
"And more than 1,500 of them are online," he added.
Next, Schmid pulled a rabbit out of a hat. He petitioned the state to allow the use of a petition that could be downloaded as a PDF file, saving himself the time and expense of distributing tens of thousands of petitions to his signature collectors. The state agreed.
"The online petition printing gives us access to folks that we never hear from. People who would be reluctant to give us their address, people who might not have otherwise gotten involved. People can get active at their own speed. Now we're getting sacks full of signed petitions coming into the office."
Organizing is also easier online. "We have strong numbers in each of the 83 counties in the state. People who want to organize other petitioners to blanket an event just let me know, and I put their contact information out in our regular e-mail newsletter so that people in their area can get in touch. It's all working beautifully."
Schmid has until July 10 to turn in the required signatures, but up to this point, he has decided not to count them as they come in. Nevertheless, he is confident that the PRA will make it to the ballot.
"The volunteers that we have now are the real hard-core types. They're the people who've been out in the Michigan winter, at polling places during the primary. Signature gathering is really a warm weather sport. We're expecting to have a lot of new recruits in the next few months as the weather warms up. And now, we have 1,500 people online who know the routine, who can train and lead the new people. I am absolutely confident that we will get the signatures we need."
Signature gatherers are also doing double duty helping people to register to vote. Many of Schmid's volunteers are focusing on the 18-30 year-old crowd, that is less likely to have registered before. Michigan law counts signatures as valid as long as a signer's voter registration is postmarked by the day that they sign the petition.
And what does Schmid think of his chances of getting the amendment passed on Election Day?
"Most of the experts from around the country think that we're biting off a lot with this amendment. But Michigan is a funny state. We have a lot of libertarians here, a lot of gun owners who are wary of government intrusion into people's homes and lives. We also have a very strong Democratic base -- union people," he said.
"We've also written the amendment very carefully. The way I like to say it is that the amendment will keep marijuana away from kids, cars, the public and peddlers. We expressly forbid any commerce, which keeps the federal government out of the equation. I think that when people in Michigan read this, they'll see the sense. Personal responsibility, the idea that it is the individual who must make and live with the consequences of his or her own actions, has a lot of support in this state. I think that come election day, the people of Michigan might just make history."
To find out more about the PRA, or to volunteer, visit http://www.ballot2000.net.