The debate over cannabis has been burning strong for decades.
“The idea you could arrest and destroy someone because of a plant is so absurd,” says marijuana advocate Chuck Ream.
As more and more communities vote to legalize the drug, the debate is only speeding up and hitting closer to home.
The executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs Association Terrance Jungel says, “All you are doing is introducing another mind altering substance into the quagmire of mind altering substances we already have.”
In 2009, Ream and Tim Beck formed the Safer Michigan Coalition to help Michigan communities get marijuana reform on their ballots and get it decriminalized in their city limits.
“We hardly regard this as relating to marijuana anymore it relates to freedom, it relates to whether or not a person is a patriot because anybody who’s a patriot is not going to vote to destroy someone’s life because they enjoy a plant, that’s twisted, that’s sick,” says Ream.
Prior to this year, nine Michigan communities have passed measures to decriminalize recreational marijuana to some extent. This year another 11 took a shot at it — five of them in Northern Michigan.
Ream says, “Our goal is to just give the voters a voice about this policy, in no other way do they get to vote directly or express their opinion on this policy that is a travesty of everything America was based on.”
Never before had the Safer Michigan Coalition failed in their attempts at passing a measure. This year six of the eleven were voted down. Four of the five in Northern Michigan said no. Mt. Pleasant was the only local town to approve decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.
Jungel says, “I think the silent majority is waking up to the fact they may become victims to those that use marijuana, if you’re not using it you may not think it effects you. You need to care about it because when they cause a car accident, they aren’t hitting other people smoking marijuana, they’re hitting us.”
He says it may sound simple enough to throw words like freedom around and just let people smoke what they want, but this is a complex issue that needs to be thought through.
“I guess the question the public needs to ask themselves is what is the social redeeming value of legalizing marijuana? How does that benefit society in any way? And if you are doing it for economics then we are using economics and emotion to drive a decision on public safety and that is never a good idea.”
As for Northern Michigan’s lone marijuana sanctuary, Mt. Pleasant police don’t expect the city to go up in smoke.
“Nothing for us will change. For us we have never targeted individuals for possession of marijuana we’ve never focused our enforcement efforts on those individuals and we will continue not to,” says Mt. Pleasant Police officer Jeff Browne.
The new law allows for a 21 year old to have up to an ounce of pot on them while on private property. But it’s important to remember this is only a city ordinance. It is only allowed in Mt. Pleasant city limits and there are still state and federal laws banning marijuana.
“The city police department could technically still follow state law as well. This does not give anybody free reign to walk down the sidewalk, read the ordinance but even still there is state law that follows this as well.”
“It will not apply to CMU’s campus because they receive federal funds so their law enforcement personnel would still have to prosecute under federal law,” adds city clerk Nancy Ridley.
An ounce isn’t a lot. The overlapping laws don’t give cannabis fans much more freedom than they have now but it’s a statement.
“The effect wont be much but the message will be there, it will be great.”
Ream, like many cannabis supporters, expect it’s only a matter of time before the state of Michigan legalizes it statewide. Every year, more cities will have their vote to show support. Traverse City is scheduled for next year. Or maybe Northern Michigan doesn’t want it, as this year’s races showed.
“We have the Food and Drug Administration who has been tasked specifically to determining what’s safe and what’s not safe to put in our bodies. Why are we turning that responsibility over to a popularity vote?” says Jungel.
But Ream disagrees,”The average voter in Michigan cities knows in their heart and in their mind that its wrong — not because they love cannabis but because they know it’s wrong.”
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