On Tuesday, Nov. 5, the voters of three Michigan communities voted to decriminalize marijuana—all with 60 percent or more of the vote. But what does it mean for Michigan to have eight cities with decriminalized marijuana when Colorado and Washington are already legalizing statewide?
Ferndale, Jackson and Lansing voted—69 percent, 61 percent, and 63 percent, respectively—to decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana. After decriminalization in these cities, adults over 21 will be able to possess and smoke pot on private property, similar to legalization in Colorado and Washington. Those numbers are indicative of a surging level of support for legalization, especially as the national percentage of those who endorse legalization climbed to its highest-ever number in October.
Despite these successes, outright legalization faces challenges from Michigan’s state government. State attorney general Bill Schuette is opposed to just decreasing penalties for marijuana, let alone legalizing it. The Michigan House of Representatives has yet to debate a decriminalization bill introduced in April. The fact that voters have decided marijuana should be legal in the state capital itself is telling. The contrast between the will of the people and the resistance of the current government puts Michigan in an interesting position as far as the national legalization movement goes.
Only two of Colorado’s local communities voted to decriminalize pot before the state began to legalize and regulate it. Eight of Michigan’s communities have, and a bill or ballot initiative that would create a legal framework for regulating marijuana like the one in Colorado has not yet been proposed. Michigan’s political landscape might not yet be ripe for legalization on the state level. If other states run into similar problems—if the existing state governments refuse to recognize voters’ wishes that pot be legalized—the whole marijuana movement might be stalled.
As more cities legalize and decriminalize, state governments and police forces are doubling down on marijuana’s continued illegality under state and federal laws. Almost every state in the Union has a community in it which has decriminalized, but only 16 have decriminalized on a state level.
Unless statewide decriminalization or legalization efforts become more routinely successful, an impasse may be ahead. As voters legalize marijuana in their communities, states might block the relaxation of marijuana laws by continuing to enforce prohibition laws already on the books. Many police forces have vowed to enforce state law in cities that decriminalize
The federal government could do the same to the states that legalize as well by continuing to enforce federal law. Essentially, the future of the marijuana debate will be decided by state and federal government’s choice to respect or disregard the wishes of the voters. The Department of Justice declared in August that it would not interfere with states’ marijuana laws as long as they fit certain criteria for regulating personal use. The eight criteria they list focus on the essential core of a progressive marijuana policy, which is to keep dope in the hands of responsible private users, not children or gang members.
In 2014, Carl Levin’s Michigan Senate seat will be up, and Democrat frontrunner Rep. Gary Peters is a supporter of marijuana reform. In addition, the entire House of Representative will be up for re-election in 2014, and many members of both parties oppose marijuana reform in some fashion. If voters across America choose to elect leaders who support rational marijuana laws, perhaps the muddy conversation about states’ rights can be bypassed for the ultimate conclusion of federal legalization.
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