Initiatives on the Move: Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Oakland, Montana Added to Upcoming Marijuana Reform Votes This November 6/25/04

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Four initiatives -- three local, one statewide -- related to marijuana policy made the news this week as they moved toward the November ballot.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, City Clerk Ron Olson certified that petitioners for a medical marijuana initiative there had handed in more than the required 7,000 signatures to put the initiative on the November ballot. While approval of final ballot language awaits action by the city council next month, the initiative would amend the city charter to allow people using marijuana for medical purposes to avoid prosecution.

The initiative was organized by the Washtenaw Coalition for Compassionate Care (also known as Medical Marijuana in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Saline), which is loosely aligned with the Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care. The Detroit Coalition's medical marijuana initiative goes to the ballot in August.

Ann Arbor is a notoriously pot-friendly town. After White Panther radical John Sinclair was arrested there in 1969 for possession of three joints and sent to prison for 10 years, the city saw mass demonstrations on his behalf. Within two years, an Ann Arbor tradition was born: the annual Hash Bash. And by 1974, the city had voted to decriminalize marijuana possession, making it punishable by a $5 ticket (later raised to $25). The city resisted two efforts to undo decrim in the 1980s. And now it is moving on the medical marijuana frontier.

In Berkeley, California, the city clerk confirmed Wednesday that an initiative to give medical marijuana patients access to larger supplies of cannabis has qualified for the November ballot. Organizers of the Patients Access to Medical Cannabis Act collected at least the 2,077 signatures needed to qualify for the November 2 ballot, City Clerk Sherry Kelly reported.

The Berkeley City Council in April turned back a proposal by Councilmember Kriss Worthington to increase the number of plants allowed from 10 to 72. The council cited concerns about crime and questions about how much marijuana one plant produces.

Sponsored by the Alliance of Berkeley Patients, identified by the Oakland Tribune as "a group of cannabis club operators," the initiative would:

  • Replace the city's 10-plant medical cannabis limit with a patient's "personal needs," defined by a doctor and the patient.
  • Set up a peer review committee to oversee the safety and operations at the four dispensaries.
  • Amend zoning ordinances to allow for the issuance of use permits to qualified applicants.
  • Call on the city to take over distribution of medical cannabis if the federal Drug Enforcement Administration closes the city's four dispensaries.
Next door in Oakland, the OaklandCivil Liberties Alliance ( reported it had submitted more than 30,000 signatures, 12,000 more than the 20,000 needed to qualify for the November ballot. The Oakland Cannabis Initiative would instruct the city to tax and regulate private adult use as soon as possible under state law. Until state law is changed, Oakland city officials would be required to lobby the legislature in favor of changes that would allow for regulated distribution of marijuana to adults. In the meantime, the initiative would also require city police and prosecutors to treat the private adult use of cannabis as their lowest law enforcement priority.

"This law will keep cannabis off the streets, away from children, and out of the hands of dangerous drug dealers, by making it available in licensed businesses, not on neighborhood street corners," said Dale Gieringer, a member of OCLA and the president of the California Chapter of NORML (

OCLA expects the signatures to be verified and the initiative approved within a few weeks, and based on reactions to the signature gathering campaign, organizers are optimistic. "We collected signatures in every commercial area from Foothill Square to Rockridge, and even went door to door in some neighborhoods," said Kim Swinford, the campaign Field Director. "We found that Oaklanders are tired of police resources being wasted on adult cannabis use, while programs are being cut in our parks and libraries."

The Oakland initiative boasts strong local support, including several elected officials, as well as financial and technical assistance from the Drug Policy Alliance ( and the Marijuana Policy Project ( OCLA reported its campaign would really kick into gear once the initiative is approved for the ballot.

Last but not least, the Marijuana Policy Project announced this week that the Montana medical marijuana initiative it is sponsoring ( is headed for the ballot. Organizers turned in more than 32,000 petition signatures to state government officials, more than enough to qualify.

The Montana initiative would, in its own words:

  • Allow terminally and seriously ill patients who find relief from marijuana to use it with their doctors' approval;
  • Protect these seriously ill patients from arrest and prosecution for the simple act of taking their medicine;
  • Permit qualifying patients or their caregivers to cultivate their own marijuana for their medical use, with limits on the amount they could possess;
  • Create registry identification cards, so that law enforcement officials could easily tell who was a registered patient, and establish penalties for false statements and fraudulent ID cards;
  • Allow patients and their caregivers who are arrested to discuss their medical use in court; and
  • Keep commonsense restrictions on the medical use of marijuana, including prohibitions on public use of marijuana and driving under the influence of marijuana.
In addition to the initiatives mentioned above, there are "regulation" initiatives already set for the November ballot in Nevada and Alaska, medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot in Arkansas and Oregon, and the city of Columbia, Missouri, Detroit (in August) and possibly Minneapolis, and "lowest priority" initiatives in Columbia, Missouri, and probably Tallahassee, Florida. It looks as if marijuana will once again feature prominently on the political scene this fall.

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Issue #343, 6/25/04 Editorial: Ruling Creates More Questions Than Answers | Like a Rock: New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws Survive Another Legislative Session | When Remaining Silent Is a Crime: US Supreme Court Rules Cops Can Arrest Those Who Refuse to Identify Themselves | Initiatives on the Move: Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Oakland, Montana Added to Upcoming Marijuana Reform Votes This November | DRCNet Interview: Jude Renaud, Executive Director, Educators for Sensible Drug Policy | Newsbrief: Is Cecil Knox the Godfather? Feds Indict Southwest Virginia Pain Specialist Cecil Knox for Third Time, Aim to Win Racketeering Conviction | Newsbrief: Florida Pain Doctor Found Guilty of Illegal Prescribing | Newsbrief: California Pharmacist to Go on Trial for Filling Oxycontin Prescriptions | Newsbrief: Two Rulings Could Affect Federal Sentencing | Newsbrief: American Bar Association Report Calls for "Smart on Crime" Approach, End to Mandatory Minimum Sentences | Newsbrief: Utah Supreme Court Upholds Religious Peyote Use by Non-Indians | Newsbrief: Marijuana Candy Bars Appear in Bay Area | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | New Jersey Needle Exchange Update | This Week in History | Students for Sensible Drug Policy Chapter Grants | The Reformer's Calendar

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