Eager for marijuana reform, voters across the country are affirming their support for change in measured steps aimed at keeping momentum strong into the pivotal 2012 elections. Both the cities of Tacoma in Washington and Kalamazoo in Michigan voted this past Tuesday to make marijuana possession the lowest priority offense for local law enforcement. While the practical effect of these charter amendments will sadly depend on the willingness of local authorities to listen to the people’s wishes, the message will be hard to miss. By keeping marijuana reform in the news, on the ballot and now in the books, activists are building the foundation for true cannabis legalization.
In Kalamazoo, 65% of voters declared that busting adults (being over 21 was a requirement both cases) for “the use and/or consumption of one ounce or less of usable marijuana” would be “the lowest priority of law enforcement personnel.” The margin of victory also closely matches the totals for the state’s medical marijuana act which in 2008 got 65% approval from Kalamazoo and 63% statewide. This shows that enthusiasm for the cause of marijuana in Kalamazoo and across Michigan has not waned, despite the constant attacks and deceptions led by State Attorney General Bill Schuette. Prohibitionists in the Michigan government may argue that the vote won’t change much because state and federal law take precedence, but they will not be able to stand in the way forever; Schuette is already facing a budding recall petition.
“This is a harmless drug,” said Louis Stocking of the Kalmazoo Coalition for Pragmatic Cannabis Laws, “next drive is for a state initiative along the same lines.” According to attorney John Targowski, who helped write the initiative, “we’re moving toward several goals in 2012 on the state level and national level and I think the train has left the station when it comes to how we’re going to tax and eventually regulate marijuana.” He added that voters are “constantly going to see some marijuana related questions on the local level or state” in upcoming election cycles.
In Tacoma, marijuana supporters achieved success as an almost identical proposal to “make the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of cannabis offenses the lowest enforcement priority” passed by the same 65% to 35% margin. A similar initiative was passed in neighboring Seattle in 2003 which dropped the marijuana arrest rates from the hundreds to just one this past year. Tacoma authorities are saying that marijuana is already a low priority and so the law is moot; however, considering that there were 462 marijuana possession cases in the courts last year, there may be an issue with their definitions. It will be up to Tacoma residents to demand that their decision be respected.
Beyond being a measure of the local attitude and a bellwether for 2012, these victories can be seen as a public rebuke to the Obama administration’s national war on weed. While the most aggrieved state, California, is suing the federal government, activists in Ohio and Missouri are fighting for medical marijuana and even possible legalization. That voters in two states separated by over 2000 miles are demanding a law enforcement drawdown by the same exact margins is a powerful reminder of the national prohibition exhaustion and portent of the coming marijuana revolution.
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