Voters will decide on Election Day whether to amend the city charter to allow individuals over the age of 21 to possess and use less than one ounce of marijuana on private property.
The initiative is being spearheaded by the Coalition for a Safer Mount Pleasant, a pro-marijuana group that includes Mount Pleasant School Board member Brandon McQueen and Central Michigan University graduate Jericho Simon. That group is backed by the Safer Michigan Coalition, a pro-cannibas group that is behind multiple decriminalization ballots statewide.
Chuck Ream, a former Monroe kindergarten teacher who retired from teaching after 33 years in 2004 to fight for marijuana decriminalization in Ann Arbor, is one of the co-founders of the Safer Michigan Coalition. Ream said the group’s role is to support local leaders who need advice or funding for their pro-cannabis campaigns.
“We support local leaders that decide they want to make a move,” Ream said. “We are not here to control anyone’s campaign.”
The Safer Michigan Coalition is behind 12 campaigns to decriminalize marijuana on 2014 ballots. The others can be found in Saginaw, East Lansing, Port Huron, Oak Park, Hazel Park, Lapeer, Utica, Clare, Harrison, Benzie County, Frankfort and Onaway. Ream works most closely with the initiatives in East Lansing and Mount Pleasant.
“People are finally sick and tired of people’s lives being ruined for such an obscure reason,” Ream said.
Ream said the coalition runs on donations and doesn’t have much money. He said the group has only about $6,000 in funds for all the campaigns they are advising.
Ream said he has given about $200 to the Mount Pleasant initiative.
Central Michigan University sophomore Ian Elliot, the founder and president of Student Advocates for the Medical and Recreational Cannabis, serves as a liaison between the coalition and CMU students. Elliot said he and other members of SAMRC have helped collect signatures for the petition and register people to vote.
“Safer Michigan Coalition is a tremendously effective organization of state-wide activists,” Elliot said. “Because of the momentum of the movement, people came out of the woodwork to form their own coalitions in their own communities.”
Whether the decriminalization proposal, if enacted, would change much for recreational marijuana users in town is unclear.
CMU Police Chief Bill Yeagley said the ballot proposal passing would not change how the department enforces marijuana laws.
He said the university is required to keep up with certain federal standards that would not allow them to change its marijuana policies. For instance, medical marijuana is not allowed on campus, despite it being legal in Michigan.
Both Mount Pleasant Police Capt. Paul Lauria and Isabella County Prosecutor Risa Scully have said they would continue to enforce the state and federal cannibas laws should the city decriminalize marijuana use.
Reams said ignoring voters would be “slap in the face” to the electorate.
“The local police can choose to respect the people who pay their wages wishes, or they can just stick their finger to democracy,” Ream said.
Elliot hopes that if the proposals passes, the police will back off on marijuana arrests.
“We hope and we will push the city, if this passes, to ask the police to not arrest people on this issue in respect of this vote,” Elliot said. “If it doesn’t get pushed through, it will give us an idea of the amount of education and groundwork we have to lay before this materializes.”