Lansing residents will see a new ballot initiative to decriminalize recreational marijuana use in November, but it remains unclear whether visiting MSU students will be able to light up without fear.
City Clerk Chris Swope certified a proposal last week that would allow the use, possession or transfer of less than one ounce of marijuana on private property in Lansing for those aged 21 or older. The initiative will come before voters in the Nov. 6 election.
Whether this would legalize the drug is a matter of interpretation, Swope said, saying that local police still could arrest people for possession, even if the initiative is voted in.
Marijuana possession remains a punishable offense under state and federal law.
Jeff Hank, an attorney who spearheaded a petition for the measure, said he is confident it will pass and hopes police will support it.
“We’ve had enough,” Hank said. “We want a change in policy, and if (politicians) are not going to do it, then the people are going to do it themselves. We hope police resources are spent on real crimes.”
Hank said police officers and judges have contacted him in the past to profess their support for ending “marijuana prohibition,” but because of a public stigma, he said he thinks many remain afraid to come forward.
Similar measures to the one in Lansing passed in five other Michigan municipalities during last November’s elections.
Detroit and Flint, Mich. voters passed proposals to decriminalize less than an ounce of marijuana, and Kalamazoo voters approved a proposal to allow three medical marijuana dispensaries in the same year. The city already had decriminalized cannabis for those over 21. Ypsilanti, Mich., voters also OK’d a plan to make pot the lowest crime priority for police officers.
Ann Arbor has issued civil infractions for possession since the 1970s. Grand Rapids passed a similar initiative in 2012, voting to issue civil infractions for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana.
Marijuana advocates say they hope Lansing will soon be added to the list.
“It’s really what the people want, and it’s been a long time coming,” said Cliff McClumpha, a Lansing resident and MSU advertising senior.
McClumpha said in the end, the government could benefit from increased revenue if it becomes a taxable substance, an argument advocates have long touted. And he expressed confidence that Lansing voters wouldn’t pass up the chance to vote on the measure.
And while it may seem complicated in Lansing, cannabis law is even hazier on the national level.
Medicinal marijuana — legal in several states, Michigan included — still is illegal on the federal level. Washington and Colorado have legalized recreational use, though legal experts have been puzzled over the “which-trumps-which” question, as federal law supersedes state on paper, though not always in practice.
A Sept. 10 congressional hearing seeks to address the differing laws, adding to a growing national debate on the issue that has drawn the attention of the Attorney General and law enforcement agencies.