MONTROSE, MI — Voters in Genesee County’s smallest city could decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana but they will have to wait until next year for their chance to do it.
“People here don’t have a problem with it,” said Durand resident Carrie Justice, who helped organize a petition drive to force the voter referendum here.
“A group formed and said we want this in our area … It will put alcohol and cannabis on a somewhat similar footing,” Justice said. “We’re not talking about people driving impaired. This is about people transporting.”
The revision proposed by the Coalition for a Safer Montrose would add new wording to the city charter, removing criminal and civil penalties for adults who use, transport or possess less than one ounce of marijuana on private property.
The push is similar to referendums voters are deciding in November in more than a dozen Michigan communities, including Saginaw and East Lansing.
Interim Montrose City Manager Amy Planck said signatures to force the marijuana referendum here have been verified and the council voted to forward the question to Genesee County Clerk John Gleason, but not in time to be included on the November ballot.
Instead, the measure will be on the February 2015 ballot.
Still to be determined: whether Montrose Township police, who patrol in the city, would continue to make arrests for marijuana possession by using state or federal law as the basis of charges.
MLive-The Flint Journal could not immediately reach Police Chief Darrell Ellis for comment, and Planck said she’s not sure how that would be handled if the measure passes.
In Flint, police continued to arrest people for marijuana possession despite a ballot proposal voters approved less than two years ago, but that hasn’t been the approach everywhere.
Tim Beck, who helped spearhead Michigan’s successful medical marijuana petition drive in 2008, said different communities have taken different approaches to marijuana as voters have changed local ordinances to decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug.
“When this passes, they will still have the right (to charge crimes) under state law,” Beck said. But as a result, the city won’t continue to receive fines or forfeitures as they did when using local ordinances.
Beck said earlier this year that the Safer Michigan Coalition is helping local activists change public policy and sending a message to the Michigan Legislature, where bipartisan statewide decriminalization legislation was introduced last year that would make marijuana possession punishable by a fine rather than arrest.
Beck said Friday, Sept. 5, that local officials moved too slowly in processing the signatures collected by the Coalition for a Safer Montrose to get the question in front of voters in November, which means city voters will have to pay for a February election they otherwise may not have needed.
Justice said despite its population of less than 1,700 people, she believes Montrose residents will help lead a change in thinking about decriminalization of marijuana in Michigan.
“I don’t think the population size dictates” how city voters will decide the question, she said. “We’re renegades. We’re roughnecks. We don’t want the government … telling us you can or can’t smoke weed.”
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