A proposal to amend Detroit's city code to decriminalize small amounts marijuana will finally appear on the city's ballot this November after being held up in court for almost two years.
Proposal M, if passed, would amend a 1984 Detroit city ordinance in order to exempt adults over the age of 21 from being prosecuted for the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana on private property.
The Detroit election commission voted 3-0 to block the referendum in August 2010, arguing that possessing marijuana still violated state law. In June Michigan's Supreme Court denied a motion by the city of Detroit to appeal an earlier court decision ordering city officials to place the measure on the ballot.
Tim Beck is the chairman of the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, the group that put the put the proposal on the ballot. He said under the measure, Detroit police would still be able to charge people under state law, but would no longer be able to collect fine or forfeiture money from those arrests. That money would go to the State of Michigan.
Although Beck believes philosophically there should be no legal difference between smoking a joint and drinking a vodka martini, he also thinks there is a practical reason to support the proposal.
"The city of Detroit is in some very, very deep financial problems. It is on the verge of bankruptcy. The police force is stretched as thin as it's ever going to get," he said. "We've got to get out of the business of dealing with victimless crime and refocus our scarce resources on crimes that have actual consequences to other people."
Beck said his coalition hasn't done any serious campaigning on the issue because they believe voters already strongly support the issue. He notes that the issue has received endorsements from mainstream sources like the Detroit Free Press, Michigan's 13th Congressional District Democratic party organization and the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee.
Lawrence Kenyatta is a member of the advocacy committee of the Partnership for a Drug Free Detroit, a coalition of faith groups and substance abuse prevention and treatment organizations that opposes proposal M.
In an effort to stop the proposal, members of Kenyatta's organization have been speaking out at candidate forums, town hall meetings and local barbershops. Kenyatta believes passing the measure will have detrimental consequences for the city of Detroit. He argues that a more permissive attitude towards marijuana could lead to increased rates of domestic abuse, encourage the use of harder drugs and make it more difficult for people to find work due to drug testing.
"If you want a healthy city, you need healthy citizens," he told The Huffington Post. "You do not need citizens walking around intoxicated. We don't want citizens walking around here high from drugs, high from marijuana, high from anything!"
Beck of the Coalition for a Safer Detroit told The Huffington Post that he believes anybody who wants to use marijuana in the city of Detroit is already doing so because it is so readily available in the city.