Press enter after choosing selection

Enact $5 Weed Law: More Reefer Reform

Enact $5 Weed Law: More Reefer Reform image
Parent Issue
OCR Text

Enact $5 Weed Law: More Reefer Reform

April Fool's Day of 1974 in Ann Arbor should bring a memorable high.

Untold thousands are expected to gather on the diag for the third annual greet spring HASH FESTIVAL.

And, if enough people make the journey from the diag to the polls, April first may also mark the restoration of this town's legendary $5 parking ticket for sale and possession of marijuana.

Attention cynics, cop-outs and non-believers: THE BALLOT PROPOSAL CAN WIN April 1st. Last April the Republicans received a minority of the vote, while both the Democrats and HRP supported marijuana legalization. The majority of this community does not believe weed users should be thrown in prison. The $5 fine can be returned, but only if enough excitement is generated to inspire droves of people to the polls.

The $5 marijuana charter amendment would reduce the penalty for any kind of cultivation, transportation or sale of cannabis sativa to a $5 ticket ("violation") ONLY. The new law outlaws arrest for weed, directing that "the District Court Clerk shall accept any plea of guilty in the same manner as they are accepted at the Parking Violations Bureau of the Fifteenth District Court."

As a charter amendment, the $5 fine could not be repealed by the Republican City Council. Unlike its predecessor of 1972, the amendment orders the city police to report weed offenses ONLY to the City Attorney. This is to insure no use of the harsher state law currently being enforced in Ann Arbor where, despite myth, herb arrests have actually quadrupled in the last 4 years. The proposal also directs that anyone found guilty of violating its provisions may be punished by a $500 fine and 90 days in jail. Use of the state law would be violating its provisions.


While the $5 charter amendment appears to be more all-inclusive than its predecessor, there are difficulties that may lie ahead if the law is passed. Some lawyers are pointing out that the portion ordering the police not to enforce the state law could be thrown out of court as unconstitutional. If this happens, actual enforcement of the $5 fine would pend on the Republican Council majority. Experience has already proven the Repubs will do everything possible to expand police power and use the most severe law available.

But despite the problems with it, passage of the amendment is critically important. Reinstatement of the $5 fine would once again clearly demonstrate the will of the citizenry, adding fuel and fire to the national movement towards the inevitable decriminalization of marijuana. It would put local judges further on guard that the population which elects them does not favor harsh weed penalties. And it would serve further notice to the Republicans that their backwards outlook is not shared by most city residents.

In the future, the best way to decriminalize weed in A2 would be to elect a progressive HRP/Democratic City Council which could enact a $5 weed law as it did in April, 1972. Such a council could also be moved through an active citizenry to control the police and enforce only the $5 law.

But for now, given that the Republicans will hold Council power at least until spring 1975, the charter amendment is the only step available to the community. The law is not perfect. But it will have a great effect even if part of it is ruled unconstitutional. And the effect of letting it be defeated would only add false propaganda to the Republican's vain attempts to revive the maryjane paranoia of 1955.


In December of 1971, 15,000-people gathered at Crisler Arena in a massive rally to free John Sinclair. John at that point had served 2 1/2 years in the penitentiary while challenging the constitutionality of Michigan's marijuana law, which classified it as a narcotic and prescribed a maximum felony penalty of 10 years for simple possession. John was sentenced to 9 1/2-10 years.

The effect of that rally and the Free John/Free Marijuana movement that preceded it was to move history forwards several years at once. Three days after the Crisler event the Michigan Supreme Court released John from prison, and several months later overturned Michigan's weed law as unconstitutional. This despite the fact that only three months previous the same Supreme Court refused to let Sinclair walk the streets on appeal bond while his case was being considered.

Soon after this victory, the Human Rights Party in Ann Arbor joined with the Rainbow People's Party and a broad range of local groups in a campaign to win seats on City Council. Response to the campaign was overwhelming, and Nancy Wechsler and Jerry DeGrieck were elected to City Council in April, 1972.

The effect of the HRP victory was to push the Democrats to the left for fear they'd lose their student/youth support. The Democratic Party of Ann Arbor became the first in the country to endorse the legalization of marijuana. Soon after the election, the HRP and Democratic Council members united to enact the $5 marijuana ordinance.

In the next few months, the $5 law was used in about half the local marijuana arrests. In the other instances, the police brought their cases to the County for state law prosecution. The Democrats on Council at that time refused to join with the HRP to direct the police to utilize only the $5 law.

Soon after the election, the 1972 Michigan Marijuana Initiative was started from the back of the HRP office on Thayer Street. MMI sought to put the decriminalization of marijuana question on the ballot state-wide, but it fell short of the needed number of signatures to qualify. MMI started its efforts too late in the year to make it without massive funding and extensive organization, neither of which were present at the time.

Later on in the year, Judge Sanford Elden declared the $5 law unconstitutional. Elden maintained that Council had no right to tell a judge what penalty to impose for misdemeanors. Elden's ruling was never appealed by the city, because by then it was 1973 and HRP vote splitting had handed council rule over to the Republican majority.

Soon after taking office, the Republicans voted to repeal the $5 law and use the harsher state legislation. Mayor Stephenson unleashed an incredible Reefer Madness campaign charging that Ann Arbor had become the "dope capital of the midwest". In an interview with the SUN, Stephenson vowed to drive the "pot dealers who are social poison" out of town.

After the law was repealed, marijuana busts increased, while street paranoia and police searches took an upswing. For the first time in years, undercover agents were sent into the dormitories to bust people for sale of minute quantities of reefer.

This year we can again enact the $5 law as a charter amendment with the votes of 16,000 people. The law isn't perfect, but it's the best step towards legalization available until 1975, when the Republican stranglehold on Council can be broken with an active and united progressive community.


Decriminalization of possession for personal use is inevitable in the next few years, especially with an increasing number of governmental and various research commissions endorsing it.

But to insure this eventuallty, public pressure must be maintained.

In Oregon such pressure has resulted in the most progressive state law in the country. Weed possession in Oregon results in a maximum fine of $100 for possession of up to one ounce. The penalty is a civil violation, which means it results in no criminal record for the offender. Police can issue the citation on the street or at the station house.

In contrast with Oregon's law, New York State penalties are harsh. For example, sale of hashish to a minor in New York results in MANDATORY LIFE IMPRISONMENT.

California's laws are also among the harshest in the nation, especially since Texas repealed its antiquated laws last year.

Two years ago the California Marijuana Initiative gathered enough signatures to put the weed question on the ballot, where it lost with about 30 per cent of the vote.

This year CMI again made the effort to put the question of decriminalization for personal use on the ballot, but it looks as if the effort has failed. CMI gathered 375,000 signatures. Although only 325,000 are needed to qualify, it is expected that the state will rule enough signatures invalid to bring CMI short of the legal minimum.

CMI workers the SUN spoke to on the phone pointed to not enough funding, organization or media coverage (the California media was off covering the SLA) as reasons for the failure. When enough money, for example. was raised about midway in the campaign to put petitions as full page ads in major newspapers, CMI acquired 180,000 signatures in just a few weeks.

This year people in Detroit have again started a Michigan Marijuana Initiative. Look to future SUN for more word of their efforts.

Marijuana decriminalization is on its way. If the local and state governments don't follow Oregon's example and do it themselves, then eventually initiatives or referendums can and will win. Just because they haven't worked the first times doesn't mean such efforts are doomed to continual defeat.

But to push this inevitability to the fore and bring it about as soon as possible, every effort must be made to continue marijuana education and bring pressure to bear on local and state governments.

On April 1st, Ann Arbor, Michigan could once again play a major role in providing the needed stimulus.


--David Fenton