Detroit Could Legalize Marijuana In November

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Photo: Marcin Szczepanski/Detroit Free Press
Tim Beck, from left, and Matt Abel present petitions for a ballot proposal to legalize marijuana to Detroit Director of Elections Daniel Baxter and City Clerk Janice Winfrey on Wednesday

‚ÄčA push to legalize marijuana in Detroit, Michigan, is being led by a city resident who also helped lead the drive to allow medical marijuana in the state.

“You’ve done a great job” meeting the filing requirements, City Clerk Janice Winfrey said Wednesday to Tim Beck as he handed over more than 6,100 petition signatures, reports Bill Laitner of the Detroit Free Press.
Beck, 58, spent the last five weeks supervising the collection of signatures to get on Detroit’s November ballot. The proposal, which needed only 3,700 signatures to qualify for the ballot, would legalize possession of up to an ounce of cannabis on private property by adults 21 and older.
A registered medical marijuana patient, Beck said enforcing marijuana laws is a waste of the city’s money.

“Some things should no longer be considered a crime, like minor marijuana possession,” Beck said, reports Tom Greenwood of The Detroit News. “We have to start addressing the massive state budget crisis, the lack of resources in Detroit and prison overcrowding.”
“The money spent prosecuting those [minor marijuana possession]cases could have been used to fight more serious crimes,” Beck said.
City officials must certify the petition signatures within 10 days, then the City Council has up to 90 days to either pass the proposal or send it to votes this fall, according to Elections Director Daniel Baxter.
If the proposal passes, Detroit will follow Denver as a major American city legalizing pot. Back in the 1970s, the Ann Arbor, Mich., City Council came very close to legalization, instituting a $5 fine for minor pot possession.
“It’s a good year for this because it’s also on the ballot in California,” Beck said. California voters in November could vote to treat marijuana much like alcohol.
“No one ever died from overdosing on marijuana,” Beck said. “But they can die from overdosing on alcohol.”
Beck admits that legalizing marijuana in Detroit would be largely symbolic.
“State law takes precedence over local ordinances,” said Beck, who owns an insurance and brokerage company.
“If Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox wanted to send the Michigan State Police or National Guard into Detroit to marijuana users, he would have that right,” Beck said. But, “If Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans wanted to pursue low-level marijuana users, he wouldn’t be able to charge them under city law, only under state law. Any fines that ensue would go into state coffers.”
Supporters of the proposal say that it would free up police to pursue violent criminals, ease jail crowding and encourage a safer alternative to alcohol.
Matthew Abel, an attorney and medical marijuana patient, along with Beck and real-estate magnate David Farbman, pooled $10,000 to pay the costs for drafting the proposal, launching a website (www.saferdetroit.net) and getting petition signatures, Abel said.
Drug warrior Attorney General Mike Cox said that the Detroit proposal would change nothing about how drug laws should be enforced in Michigan’s largest city.
“There can’t be some kind of zone or island of non-enforcement, just because a city decrees it,” Cox spokeswoman Joy Yearout said, displaying a zone or island of non-intelligence.
“When liquor was against the law, they bootlegged it,” said petition signer Richard Smyth, 55. “Marijuana is no different.”
Smyth said he paid a $1,000 fine and spent 90 days in jail for marijuana possession 30 years ago.
State Rep. LaMar Lemmons (D-Detroit) said he not only supported the new proposal — he helped write it.
“I’d like our police to concentrate on violent crimes,” Rep. Lemmons said.
Lemmons said he doesn’t want to encourage marijuana use in public, but people using it at home should just be left alone.
“When Tim [Beck] was crafting the legislation, I did suggest that he put that caveat in — about the private property,” Lemmons said.
If the law is passed in Detroit, it might someday be passed throughout Michigan, Beck said.
“It could happen eventually,” he said. “Especially with the budget freight train approaching the state. I think Detroit will be a catalyst for a rethinking of the justice system.”
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