1. What is the Safer Lansing Initiative?
It is a ballot initiative sponsored by the Coalition for a Safer Lansing proposing to amend the Lansing City Code to re-legalize the use, possession, and transfer of an ounce or less of marijuana on private property, by anyone who has attained the age of 21 years.
2. Has this ever been done before?
Yes. The cities of Detroit, MI, Denver, CO, and Seattle, WA recently made use or possession of small amounts of marijuana their lowest law enforcement priority. Here in Michigan the City of Ann Arbor, made possession of small amounts of marijuana a minor "civil infraction" (like a traffic ticket) in the early 1970′s. In November 2011, the voters of Kalamazoo by a 66% majority, amended their charter to make possession of small amounts of marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority of the Kalamazoo police department.
None of these jurisdictions has experienced any significant, negative consequences as a result. Marijuana is safer then alcohol. It is time we treat it accordingly.
3. What has been the result in these other cities?
All of these cities are nationally recognized for their prosperity, quality of life, and educated, creative populations and for being on the progressive side of history. Even more important, police and prosecutors in these cities have been freed up to focus on crimes with victims — those that have a direct impact on the community, such as vandalism, auto theft, breaking and entering, and domestic violence.
4. What about the effect of this initiative on young Black and Hispanic males? Won’t it make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to ever get a decent job if they can’t pass a drug test?
The Coalition for a Safer Lansing rejects the racist assumption behind this question. Young men in Lansing are no different than young men anywhere else. Some use illegal drugs. The overwhelming majority don’t. In fact marijuana specifically is more popular among Whites then people of color. Yet people of color are almost 10 times more likely to be singled out for persecution by the criminal justice system!
Even more important, anyone who wants to get a job with an employer that pre-screens for drugs can simply stop consuming such substances and in a matter of a few weeks have an opportunity for gainful, lawful employment. Contrast that with a person who has even a misdemeanor drug conviction — say, for instance, possession of a small quantity of personal-use marijuana — who will find it almost impossible to get a job, no matter how long ago any "youthful indiscretion" might have happened.
5. Will adopting this code revision legalize driving under the influence of marijuana?
No. A motor vehicle is considered private property when it is parked on private property. Our streets, however, are public property. Driving under the influence of marijuana will still be against the law, as is driving under the influence of alcohol or prescription drugs.
6. Even though marijuana is safer then alcohol (it is impossible to die from an "overdose" of marijuana) isn’t it a "gateway" drug that can lead to the use of harder drugs?
No. A 1999 report on marijuana by the Institute of Medicine dispelled this myth. The study concluded that marijuana had simply been mistaken for a "gateway" drug because:
"Patterns in progression of drug use from adolescence to adulthood are strikingly regular. Because it is the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug most people encounter. Not surprisingly, most users of other drugs have used marijuana first. In fact, most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana– usually before they are of legal age."
7. Speaking of "legal age," wouldn’t this law set a bad example for kids?
The sad reality is that many kids are already exposed to illegal drugs. The fact that a substance is illegal oftentimes makes it even more glamorous to impressionable, young minds. A teenager or young adult arrested for small time marijuana possession is likely victimized for life with a criminal record, and may never be able to get a decent job or education in the future as a result.
As a community, we need to start the process of regulating marijuana like alcohol — which is actually a far more dangerous drug if used abusively.
8. What affect would passage of this code amendment have on the image of Lansing?
It would actually enhance the image of Lansing as a hip, creative, progressive urban center — a "cool city" just like Denver, Seattle, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo. It will make Lansing more appealing to everyone who prefers a diverse, multicultural urban-living experience. It will establish Lansing as a welcoming bastion of American liberty.
9. Doesn’t State law preempt local laws such as the one the Safer Lansing Coalition is proposing? Even if adopted, won’t this city code revision only be "symbolic" in nature?
It is true that state and federal law does preempt local ordinances. Accordingly, the Lansing Police could still charge a marijuana user under state law if they chose to do so. However, any fine money collected would go to the state treasury, not the city of Lansing. It is also possible, but highly unlikely, that state or federal officers could come into Lansing and arrest a citizen for simple possession of marijuana. The goal of this initiative is to focus Lansing police resources on serious crime. We cannot control what state or federal authorities may or may not do.
10. Some say the Lansing Police already treat marijuana as a low priority, that hardly anyone ever gets arrested for personal possession of small amounts. If so, why do we need a law like this?
A widely disregarded law that remains on the books invites abuse through "selective enforcement." It becomes a convenient weapon that can be used arbitrarily at the whim of law enforcement.
Further, people are in fact still being arrested in Lansing on a regular basis for merely possessing small amounts of marijuana. Over the past few years, local police generally have a higher arrest to incident ratio for drug crimes than violent crime. Every hour spent by police officers, prosecutors and court personnel processing minor marijuana offenses is time being diverted from dealing with crimes that produce real victims. Local police agencies seized at least $1.6 million dollars in property related to drug offenses in 2011 alone.
Police can issue civil citations or forfeiture notices for possession of small amounts of marijuana – and then seize cars or other property and hold it for ransom. Usually no court hearing ever takes place and a right to trial by jury is denied. This pretext forces the ticketed person to pay large sums to retrieve their property. In the case of a seized vehicle, for instance, the charges can include a hundreds or thousands of dollars of fees plus towing and storage costs. In addition, these civil actions are recorded in a public record that likely never goes away, haunting victims’ employment prospects for the rest of their lives. This, too, is unacceptable.
11. Why is it important for Lansing to pass this initiative?
There is tremendous momentum around the country for reform of abusive marijuana laws. Michigan is a battleground state in the Heartland of America for reform of these bad laws. The Capitol City should lead the way in resuscitating a sense of personal freedom and responsibility in our Great Lakes State.