Marijuana Ballot Initiatives

Municipal Governments in Michigan Reject Marijuana Decriminalization–and Democracy

Flint and Detroit voters approve marijuana decriminalization, their city governments ignore them.

|

While voters in Colorado, Washington, and Massachusetts celebrate the reform of those states' marijuana laws, residents in two Michigan cities are learning that marijuana ballot initiatives are only as effective as the government wants them to be. In Flint and Detroit, popular ballot measures decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of pot have been rendered toothless by resistant city governments.

"Dead silence." That's how marijuana reform activist Tim Beck described the response of Detroit's mayor, city council, and police department to the Nov. 6 passage of a ballot initiative decriminalizing marijuana possession. Three weeks after voters expressed their will, "no member of the media seems able get any kind of answer one way or another," Beck adds.

On Nov. 7, the Detroit City Council—which months before had sued to block the decriminalization measure from appearing on the ballot—called voters' attempt to scale back the drug war "illegal" and a "waste of time."

"I've had extensive conversation with corporation counsel in regard to this, and the proposal is illegal," Councilwoman Brenda Jones told CBS Detroit. "It was really a waste of our time, honestly, but, whatever—we were made to do it by a judge," Council President Charles Pugh told CBS. Bold words from a city government that's been plagued in recent years by scandal and fiscal insolvency. 

That same day, the city of Flint released a press release calling the passage of its own decriminalization measure "symbolic in nature."

"Possession of marijuana continues to be illegal under state and federal laws," reads Flint's press release. "The police will continue to enforce state and federal laws relating to possession of marijuana. The ballot initiate [sic] does not provide a defense to those laws and the public should fully appreciate that possession of marijuana remains illegal."

Flint's express refusal to comply with the ballot measure earned it a stern rebuke from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. 

"This is in direct violation of the wishes of voters who opted for a decriminalization approach similar to those successfully implemented in cities across the country," LEAP Executive Director Neill Franklin said in a statement. "The citizens of Flint spoke loud and clear in favor of change. City officials should respect the wishes of the voters who put them into office and can remove them just as easily."

Can Flint and Detroit simply ignore successful ballot initiatives? Yes. Yes, they can.

"Under Michigan law, state law supersedes local ordinances in much the same way federal law trumps state law," Beck, who organized support for Detroit's ballot measure, told Reason. "The one difference is Michigan state law specifically allows local law enforcement (such as the Flint police department) to enforce state law if they so choose and ignore any local ordinance which conflicts with state law. On the other hand, if local police choose to follow a local ordinance they also have that choice. Such a decision is made by authorities such as the mayor/city council who can order the police chief what to do. That said, enforcing state law means that any fine or forfeiture money now goes to the state."

If Flint and Detroit cops have to give marijuana fines back to the state of Michigan, now's a good time for them to focus their efforts elsewhere: Moody's just downgraded Detroit's debt rating yet again, and Flint is roughly $17 million in debt and under the supervision of an emergency manager.

Respecting the will of voters wouldn't put Flint or Detroit in uncharted territory. Ann Arbor, home of the top-ranked University of Michigan, decriminalized marijuana in the early 70s (it has yet to descend into anarchy). Michigan voters approved medical marijuana (or "marihuana") in 2008. The refusal of Flint and Detroit governments to respect voters is especially mystifying considering that a third Michigan city not only passed a decriminalization ballot measure, but is hard at work implementing it. According to Grand Rapids officials, the new marijuana ordinance, which reduces marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction, goes into effect Dec. 6.

While officials in Detroit can't be bothered to elaborate on their intransigence, Flint Public Safety Chief Alvern Lock said his department is "still empowered to enforce the laws of the state of Michigan and the United States." But is rule of law really the motivating factor here? According to Michigan Radio, the pre-Nov. 6 fine for marijuana possession under Flint's city ordinance is $500, while the current fine under state law is $2,000. Over the last three years, according to Michigan Live, Flint law enforcement have charged fewer and fewer people under the city ordinance, while increasingly charging people under state law. That doesn't sound like rule of law, that sounds like fleecing. 

Regardless, Lock should know that he's also empowered to respect the will of Flint voters. Considering that they're the ones paying his salary, maybe he should treat them with a little less contempt. 

NEXT: Senate Panel Approves Email Warrant Bill

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. God can’t help Flint, only Kid Rock can.

  2. Time for some recalls maybe…….

    1. Exactly. I would love to hear their logic on voting. “When you vote for me to have a job and collect a salary from your tax dollars, I really like it. BUT when you vote for things which I disagree with I will ignore your votes.” Maybe everyone should just stop voting period and make all these stains even more illegitimate. Why do I continue to care?

      1. If you refuse to vote you voluntarily give up any moral right to complain about the outcome of an election.

        Only a hypocrite wants it both ways.

  3. Huh? Oh, nevermind. Pass me some Cheetos will ya.

  4. ###
    On Nov. 7, the Detroit City Council?which months before had sued to block the decriminalization measure from appearing on the ballot?called voters’ attempt to scale back the drug war “illegal” and a “waste of time.”
    ###

    Clearly we should trust the Detroit City Council to make this decision, since Detroit’s status as a shining city on a hill inspiring the world testifies to their competence at making choices for the people of Detroit.

    1. You need to post warnings. I nearly decorated my monitor with my root beer.

  5. trust the Detroit City Council to make this decision, since Detroit’s status as a shining city .
    2N7002

    1. Some folks on the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and the DetroitYes forum, nicknamed the Detroit City Council as the “Clownsil”(or “Clowncil”).

  6. I’m a little doubtful about the idea that local governments can simply choose to ignore state law. For example, if local lawmakers passed a law saying that they were free to take bribes, would they then be free to ignore state laws against bribery? I don’t think so.

    1. It depends on whether the state law is a preemption statute.

      In many states, regulation of firearms is left up to each individual municipality. In those states, open carry of a handgun might be legal in one town, but 5 feet away across the incorporated limits of the next town over, it’s a misdemeanor.

      If the state prohibition laws are not preemptive, then a town or city really could decriminalize marijuana within their borders.

      As for federal law, prohibition is an area of the law that the U.S. constitution reserves to the people and the states, that the feds are forbidden to get involved with (this is why they needed to amend the constitution with the 18th amendment in 1919 to prohibit alcohol federally).

      If state law is not preemptive, and the feds are constitutionally forbidden to try to override the states or the people in matters of prohibition, then a town legalizing marijuana really DOES trump state and federal laws within the incorporated limits of that town!

  7. I’m the weed money man, whoa oh

  8. The fools in Detroit city council do not understand democracy plain and simple.

    Voters have a responsibility to rid themselves of politicians who fail to advocate for the policies of their constituents.

    Congrats Detroit City Council, you can help continue to clog the courts with young people while you bankrupt the city and your shrinking tax base. And they wonder why 300,000 people have left Detroit in the last ten years. Oh well, idiocy like this will only hasten the State and Federal take over of Detroit local politics.

  9. I spent 5 years in Federal Prison for a marijuana offense.
    No, I did not become a ‘hardened criminal.’

    I became a disenfranchised citizen. I cannot vote because of this pot conviction.

    But, hopefully, you can.

    Why do WE tolerate this lunacy?

    The people currently in our Congress…our ‘elected’ representatives…they ALL need to go. They are not listening to US.

    I have seen in my lifetime, men who ‘serve’ for DECADES.

    They ARE the problem…get those fools out of there.

    We desperately need a changing of the guard.

    When I was in prison, I watched armed bank robbers come and go in as little as 20 months.

    After 3 years ‘behind the wall,’ I pointed this out to the parole board. Their response: “You must understand, yours was a very serious offense.”
    How do you respond to that mentality?

    I laughed about that for 2 more years (as I still sat in prison), then wrote my book:

    Shoulda Robbed a Bank

    No, it is not a treatise on disproportionate sentences, but a look at what the use of marijuana is really about.
    People pursuing happiness in their own way. Harming no one…nor their property.

    1. They were punishing you for disobedience, which is the scariest thing of all to power-seekers.

      -jcr

  10. Perhaps this will help people realize that Law Enforcement is not the same as Peace Officer, and that Law Enforcement does NOT work for the people.

  11. Federal law trumps state law in areas where the federal constitution grants supremacy to federal laws. But federal law does not trump state law in areas where the federal constitution grants supremacy to state laws.

    The federal constitution is quite specific in how it works. Any power not specifically granted to the feds is denied to them.

    I dare you to find a place in the constitution where it gives the federal government authority to prohibit any substance against the wishes of a state government or The People of the United States. You won’t find one, because it does not exist.

    Federal prohibition of marijuana exists in a constitutional gray area so long as marijuana is illegal in all 50 states. As soon as even one state makes it legal, federal prohibition of marijuana fails constitutionally within that state. The feds retain their authority to regulate interstate commerce in marijuana and to block shipments of marijuana to states where it is not legal, however.

    But, but, but the feds already enforce their laws, some might scream. Getting away with a crime for decades doesn’t abolish the law making such an act a crime. The discovery that someone has been embezzling for 40 years before being caught doesn’t make it okay, it just adds more time to the prison sentence. Governments are no different.

  12. very super blogos thanks admin sohbet & sohbet odalar?

  13. earned that one “Sharon Levy” cares more for boot licking than the Hip sohbet odalar? & cinsel sohbet

  14. No, it is not a treatise on disproportionate sentences, but a look at what the use of marijuana is really about.SohbetChat

  15. But is rule of law really the motivating factor here? SohbetSohbet Odalar?

  16. called voters’ attempt to scale back the drug war “illegal” and a “waste of time.Sohbet SiteleriChat Siteleri

  17. That doesn’t sound like rule of law, that sounds like fleecing. G?zel S?zler?ark? S?zleri

  18. no member of the media seems able get any kind of answer one way or another. SohbetChat

  19. You won’t find one, because it does not exist. Mynet SohbetMynet Sohbet

  20. no member of the media seems able get any kind of answer one way or another. Film izleDizi izle

  21. LEAP Executive Director Neill Franklin said in a statement. SohbetSohbet Odalar?

  22. As for federal law, prohibition is an area of the law that the U.S. OyunMirc indir

  23. City officials should respect the wishes of the voters who put them into office and can remove them just as easily. R?ya TabirleriYemek Tarifleri

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.