The second attempt by grassroots Michigan activists to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot failed to get enough petition signatures to put the measure on the ballot, organizers conceded this week. The proposed Personal Responsibility Amendment (http://www.prayes.com) would have legalized medical marijuana, recreational marijuana (up to three plants and three ounces) and industrial hemp. The PRA would also have directed that all asset forfeiture proceeds go to drug treatment and education, not law enforcement.
The proposed constitutional amendment needed the signatures of 302,711 registered voters to get on the ballot, but an army of unpaid volunteer petitioners could gather only 265,000 names before time ran out on November 30.
Another group of activists fared better in Detroit, handing in more than 8,000 signatures gathered in only eleven days for an initiative that would bar Detroit officials from spending public funds to arrest or prosecute medical marijuana users. Six thousand valid signatures are required to put the measure on the ballot, and Detroit election officials are now verifying the signatures already submitted.
PRA organize Gregory Schmid, a Saginaw attorney, expressed pride in the effort and vowed to try again, this time aiming at the 2004 elections.
"We got 88% of the signatures needed," he told DRCNet, "and we are confident we can go over the top next time. The third time's the charm," he said.
The effort was plagued by a chronic lack of money. "We were an unfunded group of individual volunteers and got no big outside support," said Schmid. "It was a miracle we got as close as we did. Money can get you on the ballot, it can buy signature-gatherers, but given that we got a quarter million signatures this time without any money, there is no reason to believe we can't make that extra step next time around," he said.
The petition drive took two big hits in September, Schmid said. "The Rainbow Farm tragedy hurt us in a couple of ways (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/202.html#rainbowfarm). Just as things were starting to go our way, we were getting favorable media attention, along came the killings at Rainbow Farm and the news media took it the wrong way, linking marijuana with dangerous violence," Schmid said. "But also, many of our people then spent their time doing vigils -- for which I cannot fault them -- and the petitioning declined."
But even the Rainbow Farm killings, which generated reams of publicity in the area, were blown off the media map by the events of September 11. And so was the PRA. "I had an afternoon drive-time radio interview scheduled for that day," said Schmid. "It never happened. And we haven't had any media attention since. That hurt. But it wasn't just the media," said Schmid. "Everybody was in shock. After September 11, almost no one was doing anything except a few of our core people."
Activists associated with the PRA and the nascent Michigan Marijuana Movement (http://mmmm420.homestead.com/mmmm420.html) voted at a weekend meeting to focus on three tasks in the coming months, according to both Schmid and minutes of the meeting obtained by DRCNet. "First, we voted to call it quits on the PRA for this year," said Schmid, "but we'll be back beginning with the Ann Arbor Hash Bash in 2003."
The group will also lend support to an impending "treatment not jail" initiative being weighed by the Campaign for New Drug Policy, the well-funded, politically savvy organization that ran the pioneering and successful Prop 36 "treatment not jail" initiative in California last year. "They are leaning toward committing to an initiative in Michigan, which would be similar to the California initiative, except for some mandatory minimum sentence reform," said Schmid.
"CNDP has own its own methodology, its own money," he said. "I don't know that they need a lot of help from us, but they have listened to us and taken our input seriously. It would be silly of us not to endorse them. There is a lot of bitching in the ranks about them, some snotty e-mails, but what does that get you?"
PRA and associates will also support the Detroit medical marijuana initiative. Led by Detroit health insurance broker and political activist Tim Beck, the Detroit Medical Marijuana Initiative easily crossed a relatively low threshold for signatures -- 3% of the votes in the last mayoral election -- putting the issue on the city's agenda.
"This is a well-financed effort, backed by some very high-quality individuals in the community," Beck told the Detroit Free Press in late November. "What this does, in essence, is make medical use of marijuana -- in consultation with a medical professional -- the lowest law enforcement priority of the Detroit Police Department. It doesn't make marijuana use legal. We can't do that because of Supreme Court rulings."
The proposal to bar the use of public funds to prosecute medical marijuana users would require that their use be authorized by a physician or other authorized health care professional and would allow the possession of up to three mature plants or the equivalent in dried pot.
According to Schmid, the measure already has the support of four of nine Detroit city council members and could be enacted by the council's legislative process. If not, provided enough signatures are valid, the proposal will go to the voters in municipal elections next August.