Big Movement and Votes to Decriminalize Pot Across the Country
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In Michigan, voters in over a dozen municipalities, including Saginaw (population 51,000), East Lansing (population 49,000), Port Huron (population 30,000) and Oak Park (population 29,000), will decide on local measures to eliminate citywide penalties that prohibit the possession, transfer or use of cannabis on private property by adults for non-medical purposes. Voters in another Michigan city, Utica (population 5,000), will also decide on separate language seeking to deprioritize the enforcement of minor marijuana offenses by local police.
All of the measures are sponsored by the Safer Michigan Coalition and are part of the group’s long-term strategy to incrementally change the state’s marijuana laws, city by city, if necessary. In past years, voters in several of the state’s largest cities, including Detroit (population 700,000), Grand Rapids (population 191,000) and Lansing (population 114,000) enacted similar measures. Earlier this month, voters in two more municipalities, Oak Park (population 30,000) and Hazel Park (population 17,000), approved similar ordinances.
Long-time Michigan marijuana law reform activist Tim Beck speculates that a clean sweep at the ballot box in November is “probably going to be the tipping point for Michigan to become a decriminalized state.”
In 2013, state lawmakers in the Michigan House and Senate introduced bipartisan legislation seeking to decriminalize the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis. To date, however, legislators in both chambers have refused to move the bill. Under state law, the possession of any amount of cannabis by non-patients is classified as a criminal offense punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Michigan is not the only state where voters will head to the polls to decide whether or not to depenalize pot possession penalties. In New Mexico, voters in Albuquerque (population 555,000) will likely decide on a citywide measure to reduce minor marijuana possession offenses to no more than a $25 civil fine. Santa Fe (population 69,000) voters will also decide on an identical citywide proposal this November. (Under New Mexico state law, the possession of marijuana for non-medical purposes is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 15 days in jail.)
In Maine, voters in South Portland (population 25,000) will have the opportunity to decide on a citywide reform measure to eliminate all criminal and civil penalties pertaining to the private, adult possession of up to one ounce of pot. (Last year, voters in Portland, the state’s largest city, overwhelmingly approved a similar ordinance.) Campaigns to place similar municipal ballot proposals before voters in Lewiston (population 36,000) and York (population 13,000) remain ongoing. Maine is one of a handful of states where marijuana reform advocates are gearing up for a 2016 statewide ballot campaign. (A 2103 legislative effort to place the legalization issue before state voters fell just four votes shy of House passage.)
But ultimately, arguably the most pivotal citywide marijuana-centric vote in this fall’s election will be decided in the nation’s capitol, when voters in Washington, DC (population 632,000) head to the polls to decide on I-71. This measure seeks to remove all criminal and civil penalties in regard to the adult possession of up to two ounces of cannabis and/or the cultivation of up to six plants. Although the plan is endorsed by some two out of three District voters, it still faces significant hurdles. If approved by District voters this fall, members of the DC City Council still possess the authority to amend the measure. Members of Congress could also potentially halt the law's implementation because they have oversight in regard to the implementation of all District laws.
Of course, voters in these numerous municipalities won't be the only ones determining marijuana’s future this fall. Voters in three states, Alaska, Florida and Oregon will also be deciding on statewide marijuana reform initiatives this November. This makes 2014 one of the most important election years in history as it pertains to reshaping America’s misguided pot policies.