DETROIT, MI — The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled today a petition drive aimed at giving voters the option of decriminalizing the possession of marijuana was improperly barred from the Detroit ballot in 2010, a ruling that could pave the way for the measure getting on the ballot this year.
In a 2-1 ruling Friday, the court said Detroit’s city clerk and election commission violated their “clear legal duty” by blocking Detroit voters from considering the proposal, which would have amended the city code to legalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by adults on private property.
“It was outside the authority of (city officials) to consider the substance and effect of the initiative and defendants have a clear legal duty to place the matter on the ballot,” the court wrote.
The appeals court’s decision reversed a ruling of a Wayne County judge, who upheld the decision by the Detroit Elections Commission to keep the issue off the ballot because they believed the proposal conflicts with state drug law.
The appeals court acknowledged that marijuana possession still would be illegal under Michigan law, even if the Detroit ordinance passed, but said that’s not the issue.
Tim Beck, leader of the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, who organized the effort to put the issue before voters, called the ruling “a victory for voter’s rights in Detroit.” Barring an appeal to the State Supreme Court by the city of Detriot, Beck said he hopes the ballot question now will become part of the August election.
Beck acknowledges that state and federal law both supersede city code, and possession of marijuana by someone other than a medical marijuana patient would remain illegal under state law.
Detroit police could still charge a marijuana user under state law if they choose, even if the measure passes. But they hope that the passage would send a message to local officials: “The City of Detroit has so few resources to deal with real crime — robbery, murder, vandalism, breaking and entering — we don’t have time for this,” Beck said.