Organizers submit petitions for pot decriminalization in Berkley
By Michael P. McConnell, email@example.com, @MMcconnell01 on Twitter
POSTED: 07/01/14, 10:24 AM EDT | UPDATED: 1 DAY AGO 1 COMMENT
Marijuana legalization advocates turned in petitions Tuesday signed by Berkley voters to put a citywide pot decriminalization proposal on the ballot for the Nov. 4 election.
The proposal would make it legal for anyone 21 or older to use, possess or transfer up to an ounce of marijuana on private property not used by the public.
Berkley is the most recent city targeted by the Safer Michigan Coalition, which last year successfully passed similar proposals in Ferndale, Jackson and Lansing.
A petition drive is now underway in Huntington Woods and another is expected to start in Pleasant Ridge to also get the proposal on ballots in those communities. Statewide, advocates are eyeing other cities such as Utica, Port Huron, Mount Pleasant and East Lansing.
Chuck Ream, executive director of the group, said the plan is to pass marijuana decriminalization ordinances in up to 18 cities this year.
“Our goal is to try to have democracy recognized,” he said, adding that polls show a majority of people favor decriminalizing marijuana. “Success would be if the (state) Legislature passes (pot) decriminalization.”
The group has already submitted enough petition signatures so far this year to get the pot decriminalization proposal before Oak Park and Hazel Park voters on the Aug. 5 primary ballot.
Andrew Cissill, 26, is a key volunteer heading up petition drives in southeast Oakland County. He is running in the Democratic primary in August as a candidate for state representative in the 27th District, which includes Royal Oak Township, Huntington Woods, Berkley, Ferndale, Oak Park and Pleasant Ridge.
Cissell and his campaign manager — Debra Young, 56, of Ferndale — turned in the petitions Tuesday to Berkley City Clerk Annette Boucher.
Cissell said the plan is to do a statewide marijuana legalization referendum in 2016 if the state Legislature fails to take similar action legalizing pot before then.
“I think there is a separation between the government and the people on this issue,” he said.
Though Cissell hopes the marijuana issue will help get him elected, he still faces felony marijuana charges in Oakland County Circuit Court. He faces several felony counts of illegal delivery and manufacture of marijuana. An informer contacted undercover Oakland County Sheriff’s agents last year requesting to work with them to set Cissell up, according to court testimony. In exchange, the informer was looking for a break on his probation on a marijuana conviction.
Young, who uses medical marijuana for glaucoma, said local volunteers had no trouble collecting enough voter signatures in Berkley to get the decriminalization question on the ballot.
“People are very receptive to this,” she said. “A lot of people say this is a long time coming.”
Young and other pot legalization supporters argue that tax dollars and police efforts are being squandered in prosecuting marijuana users.
After Ferndale voters passed a pot decriminalization ordinance last year, Ferndale Police Chief Timothy Collins said the new city law would have no effect on how his officers do their jobs. State and federal law still prohibit the non-medical use of marijuana and Ferndale police will prosecute non-medical marijuana cases under state law, Collins said at the time.
Berkley Public Safety Director Richard Eshman refused to comment on how his department will handle marijuana cases if voters in the city approve a decriminalization proposal.
The Berkley city clerk told Cissell on Tuesday her office will complete the process of validating signatures on the petitions he turned in by next week.
Nearly 20 states in the U.S. have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Washington State and Colorado have legalized pot.