SAGINAW, MI — Voters in the city of Saginaw Tuesday, Nov. 5, showed overwhelming support for a proposal that seeks to decriminalize marijuana in the community.
Though two city precincts had not yet reported vote totals as of 1 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, election workers already had tallied 5,237 “yes” votes on the city’s Proposal 2, compared to 3,081 “no” votes. By 2 a.m., all precincts were in. The tally was 6,959 in favor to 4,717 opposed, for support of about 60 percent.
Cary Justice, who led the campaign to get the proposal on city ballots, said she was encouraged but not surprised by the results.
“It reiterates kind of what we’ve known all along,” Justice said. “The city of Saginaw’s voters have spoke now, and this is what they want.”
The proposal adds a new section to Saginaw’s city charter that bans city leaders from passing any ordinances that restrict the use, possession or transport of small amounts of marijuana on private property by those 21 or older.
“I would hope that law enforcement takes direction from that and moves on to crimes other than possession of small amounts of marijuana,” Justice said.
What exactly the passage of the proposal will mean for residents and visitors to Saginaw is still a uncertain.
Since possession and use of marijuana remains illegal under both state and federal law, many have called into question exactly what Saginaw’s proposal sought to achieve.
Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel said, with passage of the proposal, deputies will stop citing people with minor marijuana violations in accordance with the proposal language.
But interim Saginaw Police Chief Robert Ruth and Saginaw County Prosecutor John McColgan Jr. are taking a different stand.
McColgan said he would continue filing marijuana-related charges under state law, regardless of the results of the city ballot proposal. Ruth said he did not see the proposal changing how city officers do their jobs, though he said he would reevaluate the situation again after Election Day based on the results of the decriminalization effort.
A ‘wall of wins’
One thing supporters say the proposal will accomplish is that it will move Michigan that much closer to potentially legalizing the drug someday down the road.
“It is just another referendum by the voters,” Justice said.
Pointing to support of Michigan’s statewide medicinal marijuana proposal and the series of local ballot issues that have passed, Justice called the legalization of marijuana in Michigan “a given.”
Saginaw was one of 11 communities with a marijuana decriminalization proposal of some sort on the November ballot.
Those that ratify the ballot issues will join other communities including Ann Arbor, Detroit, Ferndale, Traverse City, Flint, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Ypsilanti, Ferndale, Jackson and Lansing to pass one of four different brands of pro-marijuana proposals:
- Medical marijuana
- Lowest law enforcement priority
Leaders of the movement make no secret that the ultimate goal is statewide legalization, like in Washington and Colorado.
Justice gathered with other marijuana activists and campaign volunteers from across the state in Lansing on Tuesday night to watch results come in from Saginaw and several other communities with marijuana-related proposals on the ballot.
Justice said things, on the whole, were looking pretty good for the pro-marijuana crowd Tuesday.
“We’ve got a little wall of wins going here,” she said.
A citizen-led effort
Volunteers for the campaign to place the question on the ballot turned in petitions bearing about 3,800 signatures at Saginaw City Hall on July 16.
City Clerk Janet Santos later reported her staffed looked over all those signatures and determined 2,287 were those of registered city voters, more than the 2,000 necessary to place the question on the ballot.
Nearly defying the advice of the city’s attorney, Saginaw City Council in August narrowly approved a motion to pass the proposal on to city voters. The 5-4 vote came after a lengthy discussion of the issue and advice from Attorney Andre Borrello that, because it was a petition-initiated proposal, the City Council was obligated to ensure it was placed on the ballot.
The marijuana proposal will add a section to the Saginaw City Charter stipulating that possession or use of a small amount of marijuana (less than 1 ounce) would be legal under local laws.
It does not impact state and federal laws banning the sale, possession and use of marijuana.
The local legalization effort only seeks to protect those who are 21 or older and only applies on private property.
The language of “Proposal 2,” as it appeared on city ballots:
Proposal to amend the city charter by adding a new section 24A entitled “marijuana”
Shall the Charter of the City of Saginaw, Michigan be amended by adding a new Section 24A, entitled, “Marijuana,” to state that: “Nothing in the Code of Ordinances shall apply to the use, possession or transfer of less than 1 ounces of marijuana, on private property not used by the public, or transportation of 1 ounce or less of marijuana, by a person who has attained the age of 21 years?”
Mark Tower covers local government for MLive/The Saginaw News. Contact him at 989-284-4807, by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.
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