By Bill Laitner
Hoping to nudge the Legislature into easing Michigan's laws on marijuana, activists submitted petitions Tuesday to put legalization questions on August ballots in Hazel Park and Oak Park.
In both cities, backers want to legalize the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis by those 21 and older on private property that is not open to the public, said Andrew Cissell, who is running for state representative on the same ballots.
Cissell, 26, of Oak Park has a platform that is almost exclusively about legalizing cannabis. He and his backers said they hope the proposals to legalize marijuana will sweep him into an August primary victory in the 27th state House district. The strategy is to bring voters to the polls who otherwise would ignore a primary election.
Trouble is, come election time, Cissell might be in jail. He faces a felony trial in May on multiple counts of selling marijuana. "If Andrew ends up in prison, that won't stop us -- this movement will go on," said campaign spokeswoman Debra Young, 56, of Ferndale.
Backers say they planned to start similar petition campaigns in the remaining communities of the 27th district, including Berkley, Huntington Woods and Pleasant Ridge.
Safer Michigan Coalition is pushing more than a dozen such proposals across the state. Most are to be on November ballots, but those in southeast Oakland County will in primary elections aimed at giving Cissell's candidacy a boost, said coalition co-founder Tim Beck, 63, of Detroit.
When Oak Park City Manager Erik Tungate sounded a note of skepticism about the proposal's chances in a city where the numerous orthodox Jews long opposed allowing even the sale of liquor by the glass, Young retorted with a laugh: "I'm Jewish and I can tell you, the orthodox Jews signed this. A lot of Jewish grandmothers signed this."
Although statewide referendums in Colorado and Washington state made marijuana legal there, in Michigan the campaigns have been limited to individual communities. And the impact of such ordinances has been largely symbolic.
Police chiefs in Detroit and Ferndale, where voters overwhelmingly approved marijuana possession, have repeatedly said they'll continue to enforce state and federal laws against marijuana. And regional anti-drug police units, including those in Oakland County, continue to conduct raids on those suspected of growing or harboring marijuana.
Supporters of the local proposals said they hope that a proliferation of community victories will force Lansing lawmakers to ease laws statewide.
The proposal is likely to pass in Hazel Park, said City Manager Ed Klobucher.
"I can tell you, our police haven't been going after people who have an ounce of this in their basements," Klobucher said. "But honestly, we don't need to be going after people with marijuana. We need to be stopping the break-ins and fixing the streets."
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