Lansing, Michigan Mayor Supports Marijuana Decriminalization ProposalBy Scott Gacek | The Daily Chronic August 6, 2013
"The public is far ahead of most politicians on this issue... Marijuana prohibition has been a complete failure.. Our police officers and courts have more important things to do." -- Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero
LANSING, MI — Voters in the Michigan capital of Lansing could have the opportunity to decriminalize marijuana in the city in November, and the proposal is supported by the city’s mayor, Virg Bernero (D).
Marijuana reform activists turned in over 6,000 signatures on Monday to place a proposal on the city-wide November ballot that would amend the city charter to add a provision that would allow the “use, possession or transfer of less than 1 ounce of marijuana on private property” by people ages 21 or older.
The measure is backed by the Coalition for a Safer Lansing, who began the signature drive in May.
“It’s a fundamental constitutional rights issue,” said Jeffrey Hank, chairman of the Coalition for a Safer Lansing. “The idea is that if you’re an adult, this is your fundamental right anyway, and if you want to transfer something between two consenting adults, you ought to have the right to do that.”
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero released a statement later in the day saying that marijuana prohibition is a “complete failure,” adding that the city’s police officers have “more important things to do” than enforce marijuana laws.
“It is not surprising that this proposal to legalize small quantities of marijuana has garnered enough signatures to be put to a vote of the citizens of Lansing this fall,” Mayor Bernero said Monday. ”The public is far ahead of most politicians on this issue, as evidenced by the overwhelming support for medical marijuana when it was on the statewide ballot several years ago, as well as the decriminalization of small quantities of marijuana in cities like Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids. It is just a matter of time before other cities, including Lansing, either follow suit or go one step further, as this proposal would do.”
“My personal view is that marijuana prohibition has been a complete failure that has mainly succeeded in filling up our prisons with minor drug offenders at an extremely high cost to the taxpayers of this state,” the Mayor concluded. “Our police officers and courts have more important things to do than pursue and prosecute these violations.”
Mayor Bernero’s statement reflects the intentions of the backers of the proposal, who want to free up police resources to to provide community-oriented policing, and allow police to focus on more serious crimes, noting that last year Lansing’s violent crime rate was 173% higher than the national violent crime rate, and the property crime rate was 38% higher than the statewide average.
“We want law enforcement focus to be on serious crimes with victims,” said Hank in May. “We want good community-oriented policing, officers of the peace protecting and serving the People of Lansing. This is a pro-law enforcement and civil liberties initiative meant to improve safety and policing in Lansing.”
Hank noted that often families and children are harmed less by actual cannabis use itself and more by cannabis prohibition policies like criminal records and the loss of benefits, and via the probation, parole and Child Protective Services system for the non-violent use or possession of marijuana.
“It’s important for Lansing to take the lead on this issue,” said Hank. “Polls and surveys tell us the citizens support cannabis reform. The laws as currently written abrogate constitutional freedoms, waste taxpayer dollars, and undermine a more healthy relationship between local people and the justice system. State legislators should see a working model of re-legalization every day. The Capitol City is prepared to make Lansing at the forefront of cannabis reform.”
Before the referendum can be placed on the ballot, the Lansing City Clerk’s office must check the validity of the signatures, a process that could take one to two weeks. Initiative and referendum efforts need to have valid signatures from at least 5 percent, or more than 4,100, of Lansing’s 83,250 registered voters, in order to be certified for the ballot.
Similar local decriminalization measures have been proposed in the cities of Ferndale and Jackson for the November election. Legislation was also introduced in the Michigan House this spring to decriminalize marijuana statewide, but has not been scheduled for a hearing.
by Scott Gacek
A long time marijuana reform activist from Boston, Scott Gacek served on the Board of Directors of MassCann, the Massachusetts state NORML chapter, from 2009-2011. In July 2013, Scott assumed the role of Editor in Chief of The Daily Chronic.