The November 2nd, 2010 election might have some interesting consequences if the proposal to Legalize Marijuana in Detroit -- sponsored by the Coalition for a Safe Detroit -- is passed by Detroit voters.
The proposal would decriminalize recreational use of marijuana by amending the city code. Specifically, the amendment would permit people over 21 to possess an ounce or less of marijuana on private property in Detroit.
Coalition for a Safe Detroit
Just where did the Coalition for a Safe Detroit come from? It is an organization started by insurance-firm owner Tim Beck (of Michigan Medical Marijuana fame), attorney Matthew Abel, and real-estate magnate David Farbman.
- The legalization of marijuana will conserve police resources: The coalition argues that because of the city's shrinking tax base, the spread-too-thin police department doesn't need the burden of enforcing the city's prohibition against marijuana. Decriminalizing the possession of marijuana within the city would free up the police to concentrate on more important crimes.
The legalization of marijuana will bring people back downtown: As Detroit continues to struggle with its image and population loss, however, the bigger reason for the legalization of marijuana within the city limits may be to bring people back downtown to live - or at least visit.
While the coalition's main argument in support of the proposal regards police resources, its website does point out that:
It will actually enhance the image of Detroit as a hip, creative, progressive urban center - a "cool city" just like Denver, Seattle and Ann Arbor. It will make Detroit more appealing to everyone who prefers a diverse, multicultural urban-living experience.Given the real estate implications and "private property" language of the proposal, David Farbman's involvement becomes more clear.
Speaking of Ann Arbor, the city lightened the penalty regarding marijuana compared to that of the State of Michigan back in the 1970s and is home to the nation's oldest marijuana celebration: the Hash Bash. These days, the penalty for marijuana use is $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second, and $100 for the third. There is no jail time.
That being said, it is interesting to note that:
- The University of Michigan has always taken a stricter view on marijuana than the city.
- The City of Ann Arbor passed a charter amendment that legalized medical marijuana back in 2004, but the city prosecutor still chose to enforce state law.
- The City of Ann Arbor and other Michigan communities are still struggling with regulation of businesses related to medical marijuana. In fact, according to the Ann Arbor Chronicle the city passed a 120-day moratorium on marijuana growing and dispensing within the city on August 5th, 2010. The moratorium grandfathered in existing facilities.
Speaking of Denver, in 2005 the city was the first major city in the nation to decriminalize marijuana. In fact, the proposal voted in by the residents of Denver was similar to the proposal being considered in Detroit: no penalty for adults 21 and older possessing less than an ounce of marijuana. The State of Colorado, however, took a somewhat stricter view. Under state laws, marijuana possession was a civil infraction punishable by a $100 fine and no jail time.
While local ordinances can provide stricter penalties and prohibitions than state law, they have no affect on state law if they go weaker. Therefore an amendment that takes a weaker stance than a state law (and that is passed by proposal) relies on the city government to respect the wishes of the people when deciding whether or not to enforce the state law.
In Denver, the mayor, city prosecutors and police chose to enforce the state laws regarding marijuana. Even after the passage of another proposal in 2007 wherein the residents of Denver voted to make marijuana enforcement the city’s lowest priority, arrests actually went up.
In other words, even if Detroiters pass the proposal, it is technically a symbolic gesture. The true consequences of marijuana use within the city will ultimately depend on the views of the people who make up the city government and therefore instruct the police. It is worth noting that this, too, can change over time as city officials come and go.
Sources and More Information
- History of Hash Bash / Ann Arbor Hash Bash
- Denver votes to legalize marijuana possession by Patrick O’Driscoll / USA Today (11/3/05)
- Denver Marijuana Arrests Up Despite New Law by Jaclyn Allen / The Denver Channel (3/5/08)
- Marijuana Legalization Ballot Proposal in Detroit by Bill Laitner / Detroit Free Press (5/6/10) (as posted on the Cannabis Culture website)