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Law > News Hits

Who's the dope?

Detroit Election Commission spikes vote on recreational pot referendum

 

Published 8/18/2010

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Attention Detroit voters: You must be idiots.

Granted, that may be a harsh analysis. But, in the light of recent events, it is a conclusion News Hits has been forced to arrive at.

First, the Detroit City Council decides not to place a measure on the ballot that would let the city's voters decide whether to place control of their public schools in the hands of the mayor.

Not that we think having Mayor Bingo directing education is a particularly good idea. He has his hands full as it is. But what we think really isn't all that important. What should matter is what a majority of the city's residents want.

It's a concept known in some circles as democracy. We hear it worked for the Greeks back in the day.

But no, the people elected by the people of this city apparently have a fairly dim view of the judgment possessed by those who put them in office (no small amount of irony in that, eh?) and want to keep them from making important decisions.

Such as whether the mayor should control the public school system. Or, more recently, whether consenting adults should be able to enjoy a little marijuana in the privacy of their own homes.

In the case of the latter, though, it wasn't the City Council, but rather the three-member Detroit Election Commission that decided you the people couldn't be trusted to make the sort of informed decision Californians will be making come November.

You might not have heard, but, earlier this year, a group called the Coalition for a Safer Detroit collected more than 6,000 signatures from voters who supported placing a measure on the ballot that would allow people 21 and older to possess no more than an ounce of pot, which they could enjoy as long as they didn't use it in public. Those signatures were submitted to City Clerk Janice Winfrey, who determined that more than enough of them were valid, qualifying the measure to appear on the ballot.

The final step required the approval of the Election Commission, a relatively obscure group that includes the very high profile Charles Pugh, president of the City Council, as one of its members.

Last week, the commission voted unanimously to keep the measure off the ballot. The reason for doing so, they said, was because the initiative, if passed, would conflict with state law. No less than the City of Detroit Law Department arrived at that conclusion, and conveyed its opinion to the commission.

News Hits, as you might have guessed, never even came close to getting into law school, including some of the shadier ones operating in the Caribbean. But we did watch a lot of Perry Mason in our youth, and, based on that rock-solid foundation, we feel more than qualified to at least ask what we believe to be this very pertinent question:

What the hell are these people smoking?

The commission's reasoning, if you can call it that, appears to the laymen here at the Hits to be patently ridiculous. If you are looking for precedent (which, as we learned at the Perry Mason School of Law, is a bona fide legal term) you need search no further than the medical marijuana ballot measure overwhelmingly approved by the state's voters in 2008.

According to federal law, any use of the evil cannabis is strictly prohibited and eminently punishable. And that federal law trumps any state law. Even so, voters in this state, as well as 13 others, were able to tell local and state authorities to keep their handcuffs off people who received the requisite doctor's authorization to use nurse Mary Jane whenever the need arose.

Of course, the feds could still bust you. (Although, in a fit of sanity, the Obama administration ordered the DEA to lay off locking up people in states where medical marijuana has been legalized.)

So, if the state can say it is going to pass a measure that contradicts federal law, why is it the city can't do the same thing and say marijuana is legal even though the state still prohibits it?

The answer, according to attorney Matt Abel (who, as far as we know, did actually graduate from a law school and didn't have to go to the Caribbean to do it), is that there's no good reason.

Sure, state cops could still bust dope smokers if they wanted to. Hell, even Detroit cops could under the authority of state law.

"The practical effect," explains Abel, one of the area's premier attorneys when it comes to weedy issues, "is that it would be an advisory measure."

In other words, a way for the people of Detroit to tell the city's cops to spend their time pursuing murderers, rapists and home invaders instead of joint rollers.

Abel and his partner in attempted legalization, Tim Beck, both tell News Hits that they were pretty astonished by the Detroit Election Commission's decision.

Even more surprising, they say, is the vehemence with which Council president Pugh vilified the proposed initiative.

"He went ballistic," is the way Abel describes Pugh's reaction. Beck says Pugh justified his opposition by claiming the measure would be a "bad law."

Maybe we missed that part of his résumé, but, to the best of our knowledge, Pugh, like the crew here at News Hits, never quite made it to law school. We did try to get his side of the story, but a phone call and e-mail seeking comment were not returned.

In the end though, his opinion isn't going to matter any more than ours. Immediately after the commission issued its opinion, Abel and Beck began drafting a legal challenge. As a result, the city must now go to court and attempt to justify the commission's actions.

It would have been easier — and much less costly — to simply put the question in front of voters and let them decide in the first place.

Perhaps we're mistaken, and the judge will decide that the commission acted properly in voting to keep this initiative off the ballot. But we're willing to bet an ounce of primo purple kush that, when the gavel drops, you the people are going to get to decide for yourselves whether Detroiters should be able to light up without fear of getting busted by the local cops.

And that's as it should be.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.

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