(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 12, 2013)
Councilperson Dan Martin was the lone voice on City Council advocating for the adoption of the citizen’s petition for an ordinance to decriminalize marijuana for people over the age of 21 possessing less than an ounce on private property. The matter came before council Monday after resident Andrew Cissell gathered enough petitions to have the ordinance considered.
Martin made the motion to adopt the ordinance, but was unable to get a second. Because of this, no vote was taken. The ordinance now goes on the ballot for the public to decide.
Cissell, who submitted the petition, said “I knew they were going to do this, and I’m confident this will pass in November. I think it was nice that one of them [Martin] took a stance on it. A lot of politicians run from this issue, even when they agree with it. But the public will decide.”
Residents came out both in favor of the ordinance and against it.
Speaking as the School Board President, but not for the entire Board, Jim O’Donnell asked Council to vote no on the ordinance, stating “for one, the school district has a strong drug prevention policy which has worked with the police department, with state and federal law. We have established 1000 foot drug-free school zones cooperatively…The National Institute of Drug Abuse research has shown that an important factor in reducing drug use among young people is the community attitude towards alcohol and other drugs. And this is research-based. Another important factor is drug use in the home. So even though this ordinance would only apply to people that are 21 years and older, it’s important to note that increased drug use in private homes would elevate the risk to our youth.”
Ferndale Schools Superintendent Gary Meier also spoke against the ordinance. “While there’s never been an occasion in my 14 years as Superintendent of Ferndale Schools that I’ve felt the need to address matters being deliberated by Council, I’m here tonight to respectfully ask you to vote no on the proposed ordinance. I’m really here to ask you to deny approval on behalf of the young people under the age of 21 who reside here and attend school in our community… My concern here is that by de facto approving of marijuana use in our community we could indirectly affect our students.”
Police Chief Timothy Collins spoke about the problematic wording of the ordinance, and noted that in the past three years and seven months the police have “never had an incident or an arrest of anybody in this city for 21 years of age or older with less than one ounce of marijuana in their own home. We have not arrested anybody or cited anybody for that offense.”
As far as the wording goes, both Collins and City Attorney Dan Christ agree that “private property” is a broad term. “It leaves the potential, because of the wording, for anybody on private property. I think maybe the intent was in your own home or in your own domicile, but it leaves… hundreds of different scenarios that it could lead to. It could be bars. It could be daycare centers. It could be anywhere that is private you could be allowed to smoke or transfer marijuana on any type of private property… It is poorly written in that respect.” Cissell, the man who turned in the petition, even agreed that the wording was too vague and offered to work with Council to “tighten it up.” The petition process clearly states, however, that the ordinance must be considered as submitted.
Another issue is the fact that state and federal law would trump any local ordinance passed. Other cities in Michigan have adopted ordinances that decriminalize or reduce the penalties for marijuana use, including Flint, Grand Rapids, Detroit and Ann Arbor. Similar ordinances are being considered in Jackson and Lansing. While the ordinances can be trumped by state and federal law, they are a symbolic way for communities to send a message to state and federal officials about what the public may want for broader policy.
Members of the public who spoke in support of the ordinance did so in hopes of Ferndale being part of the larger decriminalization movement.
“It’s about time that we acknowledge that The War on Drugs is something that our society has become addicted to,” said Ferndale resident Ryan Meray. “Just as organized crime is addicted to their billions of dollars of drug revenue that Prohibition has gifted them with, so too are the police forces kept flush with anti-drug dollars and forfeiture proceeds. So too are the prisons which fill to the brim with ruined lives. So too are the lawyers and judges and politicians who make so much hay about being tough on crime, as long as that means throwing the most marginalized and defenseless members of our society in prison for having a baggy of dope… Decriminalizing marijuana is but a small step towards ending the War on Drugs. But it is a necessary one and one that should be made without haste. You have the power right now to move us forward as a city and send a message that we are not wearing blinders to the complete failure of national drug policy, that we will not keep beating this dead horse.”
Residents Michael McShane and Michael Bugard spoke about the medicinal benefits of marijuana. Bugard stated that ten years ago marijuana helped him deal with the effects of Crohn’s disease, but that he supports decriminalization not just for medical marijuana but for recreational use as well. “This is a free country based on Libertarian values, and I think it’s ridiculous that we’re not able to do what we want in the privacy of our own homes. We’re allowed to get drunk in public as long as we don’t make too much of a nuisance, but yet a quiet stoner is going to go to jail? This is silly.”
Councilperson Martin had hoped to cast a “yes” vote. When the time came to make a motion for a vote to take place, he was unable to get a second even for voting purposes.
“This ordinance is virtually unenforceable,” Martin said. “I think what this ordinance does do, and I think the die is cast if we vote it down here tonight to go to a vote of the people. And I believe I was elected to represent the people. And I know that represents a broad array of folks in the community. But I do tend to favor decriminalization and I think this ordinance at least sends a message joining other cities that have done so through ballot initiatives that says as a state and as a country we need to look at our drug policies.”
Councilperson Melanie Piana said that she is in favor of decriminalization, but not in favor of the ordinance as written. “I was very supportive of medical marijuana. I voted for it locally and statewide before I was on City Council and I worked really hard with City Council to make sure once medical marijuana was established that we provide some zoning regulations in order to guide where those new businesses could go… I’ve always leaned toward decriminalizing marijuana, however I think these efforts to write the city ordinance as written is unclear and needs more thoughtful debate.”
Councilperson Scott Galloway agreed that a more thoughtful ordinance could be looked at by involving experts in the process, such as the zoning commission and the city attorney. Mayor Dave Coulter stated that it should be handled at the state level.
The matter now moves to the Nov. 5 ballot for the public to decide.
Cissell will be holding a political rally on October 6 at 6pm at Geary Park, where he hopes to rally people behind the issue of approving the proposal and gaining support for his upcoming run for State Representative.
To watch the Aug. 12 City Council meeting go to http://www.ferndalemi.gov/Government/Departments/City_Clerk/City_Council_Video_Meeting_Minutes.
Check out our previous stories about marijuana in Ferndale through the links below:
http://ferndale115.com/20100826clinic.html – Ferndale Clinic Still Open After Raid