The Minneapolis City Council refused on an 8-4 vote August 20 to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot, despite receiving signatures from more than 7,000 registered voters and 5,000 other local residents. The initiative would have amended the city charter to create a medical marijuana distribution system. The amendment would only take effect when medical marijuana became legal under both state and federal law.
The initiative campaign was the creation of Citizens Organized for Harm Reduction (http://www.cohr.org), with help from the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org), and MPP has already threatened legal action if the council refused to allow the issue to go to the voters. According to COHR, the amendment would:
"Require that the City Council shall authorize, license, and regulate a reasonable number of medicinal marijuana distribution centers in the city of Minneapolis as is necessary to provide services to patients who have been recommended medicinal marijuana by a medical or osteopathic doctor licensed to practice in the state of Minnesota to the extent permitted by state and federal law."
The city's Charter Commission recommended against placing the measure on the ballot, claiming that it violated both state and federal law and was "contrary to the public policy of Minnesota." Similar arguments were heard in the council's Intergovernmental Relations Committee, which voted 5-0 against the measure on August 17, and at the full Council meeting three days later.
But Council Member Dean Zimmerman, a supporter of the measure, said those arguments weren't good enough to ignore the will of voters. "For us to act and say what the citizens say has no value is a slap in the face of democracy," Zimmermann said.
MPP wasn't too happy, either. "The reasons given by the Charter Commission and members of the council's Intergovernmental Relations Committee for keeping this proposal off the ballot are transparently phony," said Neal Levine, a former Minneapolis resident who now serves as MPP director of state policies. "We are fully prepared to go to court, and to spend whatever it takes to prevent the city's voters from being disenfranchised."
Minneapolis elected officials "simply ignored the plain language of the measure, which specifically states that medical marijuana distribution will be permitted only to the extent allowed by state and federal law," Levine said. "Setting that aside, however, the council is not considering whether they should change the charter, but simply whether they will allow the citizens of Minneapolis to vote to change the charter. They are considering disenfranchising 12,000 Minneapolis residents who signed a legal petition to place a charter amendment on this November's ballot. That is grossly undemocratic, and if they vote to knock this off the ballot on Friday, we will see them in court on Monday."
It hasn't happened yet, but stay tuned.