A Tale of Two Cities

Detroit and Grand Rapids both have marijuana decriminalization proposals placed before voters on Tuesday, Nov. 6th. The cities are different but the stories are similar.

A Tale of Two Cities

Detroit and Grand Rapids share more than the top populations in
Michigan- similar stories of survival and success

In Detroit, Tim Beck is the father of marijuana decriminalization.
In Grand Rapids, Michael Tufflemire has led efforts to improve his city both
socially and environmentally. Both are backed by prominent attorneys and both
have successfully placed marijuana decriminalization on the ballots in their
respective cities this November.

Tim Beck has worked toward legitimizing marijuana use in Michigan
for more than a decade. He was the primary responsible for 2004’s Proposition
M, The Detroit Medical Marijuana Act, and played a part in 2008’s Proposal 1,
the medical marijuana issue. He scored both times- the local 2004 Act passed
with 60% approval and the state-wide initiative won by an impressive 63%margin.

Tufflemire has a long history of backing legal proposals in Grand Rapids. His accomplishments include a lengthy list of Associations and Organizations where he holds a leadership position. Tufflemire’s managed to accomplish what many though nearly impossible: place a controversial liberal issue on the ballot in the center of the state’s conservative west side Dutch Catholic stronghold.

Both men have legal eagles backing their efforts. Beck’s Detroit
effort has used attorneys Tim Knowlton and noted attorney from Cannabis
Counsel, Matthew Abel. Abel also serves as Executive Director of the Michigan
NORML chapter. In Grand Rapids, Jack Hoffman has represented DecriminalizeGR.
Hoffman participated in a live chat on the ballot proposal and said this: “In a time when police budgets are shrinking, valuable law enforcement resources must be utilized effectively,” Tufflemire wrote during the Live Chat. “By making simple use and possession of marijuana a civil infraction, police officers will not have to direct large amounts of their time toward a victimless crime.”

Each effort has been a solitary struggle of sorts. Tufflemire led
the DecriminalizeGR organization in the task of generating 10,000 signatures in
his chosen town without the help of Michigan’s established marijuana movement. Beck and his Coalition for a Safer Detroit faced legal challenges that took his
effort all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, who earlier this year forced
the Election Commission to place the issue before voters.

The two measures each have strong supporters, too. In Detroit, Beck’s Coalition has garnered the endorsement of the Fannie Lou Hamer PAC, a well-respected community voice, as well as the East Side Slate PAC endorsement and a nod from the Detroit Free Press. In Grand Rapids, the city’s current mayor George Heartwell and his predecessor, former Mayor John Logie, have endorsed the campaign. So did State Rep. Brandon Dillon, and so have 4 of the 7
sitting City Councilpersons and three School Board members. An MLive poll
revealed 80% of Grand Rapids voters will be electing to decriminalize
marijuana. “We’re not endorsing naughtiness. We’re just saying the punishment
for simple possession should fit the act,” Dillon told the Grand Rapids Press


A proposal to decriminalize possession, control, use, or gift of
marijuana, through a Charter amendment prohibiting police from reporting same to law enforcement authorities other than the City Attorney; prohibiting the City Attorney from referring same to other law enforcement authorities for Prosecution; prohibiting City prosecution except as civil infractions enforced by appearance tickets with a maximum fine of $100.00 and no incarceration; waiving fines if a physician, practitioner or other qualified health professional recommends the defendant use marijuana; and providing an
affirmative defense to prosecution for defendants intending to use marijuana to relieve pain, disability, or discomfort.

Shall this amendment be adopted?

Foes abound in each city, an unwelcome commonality. Detroit’s Police
Chief Pro Tem Name has been outspoken against the proposal. His predecessor was too, but the former Chief was forced to retire in an adultery and fraud
scandal just one month ago. Grand Rapids law enforcement is opposed to changing marijuana’s criminality, changing possession offenses to civil infractions
punishable by a ticket instead of a criminal misdemeanor charge. Some of the
resistance is in the nature of the Grand Rapids ordinance, which protects all
citizens from criminal charges, not just adults on private property as is
proposed in Flint. Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth was quoted by MLive
recently as saying: “If they wanted to do what the city of Flint is doing I
doubt everybody would get worked up over that.”  

Predictably, the state’s current Attorney General is opposed to any relaxation of punishment for marijuana use, even for card-holding patients and caregivers. The Attorney General’s chief legal counsel, Richard Bandstra, was quoted as saying the Grand Rapids proposal “improperly interferes with law enforcement decisions”. His statement is based on Proposal 2’s definition that the civil infraction fine could be waived if proof of medical need from “a physician,
practitioner or other qualified health professional.” This is a more lax
requirement than the state’s Medical Marijuana Program, which requires certification from a licensed M.D. or D.O.  Lt. Governor Brian Calley denounces the Grand Rapids effort because of “inconsistency” with existing state laws.

The A.G.’s office tried to scrap the Grand Rapids effort earlier
this year by challenging the ballot proposal itself. Claiming Grand Rapids
government officials had approved the ballot language in error because the
proposal exceeded the 100 word limit, Bill Schuette tried to kill the issue
before allowing citizens to vote. It took an opinion from the state’s director
of elections to settle the issue: he ruled that the caption phrase, “Shall this
proposal be approved?” was not a part of the actual proposal itself. This snafu
on the part of the AG’s office led to this comment, made by GR City Attorney
Catherine Mish: “All I know is I can accurately count to 100 and the attorney
general cannot.”

Ann Arbor has a decriminalization ordinance on the books, and has
for 38 years. Quoted in an MLive interview published this week, Ann Arbor’s
mayor John Hieftje confirmed the progress his city has seen as a result of
decriminalization. “They’re (police) not wasting any time doing that (marijuana
arrests) so it has an impact on our bottom line.” He added: “They’re not
worried about that student with a couple of joints in their pocket.” Keeping
youthful indiscretions from becoming life-long stains is an additional benefit
of decriminalization. “I’ve never seen that there is more marijuana use in Ann
Arbor, but what you don’t have is teenagers with misdemeanors on their record,”
said Hieftje.  

For their part, both of the principals involved are laying low in the weeks before the election. “I’m not making any predictions,” Beck said at a recent Proposal M fundraising event in Detroit, but later added that he “feels good” about the Proposal’s chances on November 6th. Tufflemire is also keeping mum on the issue, responding to reporter’s questions but not initiating any new press himself.



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