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The Green Paper, Michigan, 300 Bulbs

The Green Paper, Michigan, 300 Bulbs

This post was originally published August 13, 2014 8:38 pm by Charles Ream. It has been recreated in a rebuild of the site.


“When words lose their meaning, the universe crumbles.”  (Ancient Chinese Proverb)

Before starting this essay I carefully planted more than 300 tulip and daffodil bulbs in front of my compassion center in Ann Arbor. I prayed that democracy be respected and suffering relieved. When these flowers bloom in their springtime glory the cannabis community will be growing even faster, providing good jobs and amazing medicine, and “reinventing Michigan” with the help of our mighty, ancient, healing flower.

All of our lives the powerful have said to us, “If you don’t like the law then you should use the democratic process to change it”. So we grew up and did it. Sixty three percent of Michiganders passed the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. Every part of that act is now the law of the State of Michigan.

A significant antidemocratic reaction is coalescing in Michigan which seeks to make the law unworkable in practice and then take complete control of any patients or caregivers who persist in using cannabis medicine in Michigan. A draconian solution is being proposed where there is no real problem. They want to “fix” a system that isn’t broken, so that the power and revenue of local government is enhanced.

The voters of Michigan expect that our new “Peoples Law” will be followed (using the normal dictionary definition of words). Patients should not have to learn that the medicine that gives hope to their lives has become a “political football” to be kicked around by big boys on the lookout for power and money. This herbal medicine could be cheap and easy to provide. Our state law gives us rights which cities and townships can’t take away.

We remember that this is the second major illegitimate effort to restrict and take over implementation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. It will suffer the same fate as the first. The initial set of rules promulgated by the Michigan Department of Community Health (cite) were far more detailed and restrictive than the language which the voters approved so strongly. At a huge public hearing on (cite) patients and caregivers explained to the MDCH that the language that was on the ballot must be followed, and we would litigate constantly until the regulations accurately reflected what the voters had approved. The MDCH “turned on a dime”, and promulgated new rules which exactly comport with the language in the Act. Regulations are now clear and not excessive.

The Michigan Municipal League is now executing its own takeover of the MMMA, encouraging cities to break the law, litigate like crazy, and try to regulate, search, and inspect all participants in the Michigan Medical Marihuana program (which directly contradicts the law, (333.26426(h)). “There is a likelihood that litigation filed by proponents of medical marihuana use will ensue soon after the enactment of local ordinances” (pg. 26), says Fisher, since he knows that he is encouraging cities to directly violate the terms of the act in order to take it over and gain power and revenue. Fisher knows full well (pg. 48) that “some proponents of the Act will resist regulatory interference” (since it violates state law) “and litigation will undoubtedly ensue, and thus widespread litigation seems to be in the making”. On the next page he says, “Once ordinances are in place, and litigation begins as anticipated…”.

Fisher is being paid by tax dollars to write an essay which advocates that cities intentionally violate the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act by creating illegal ordinances, and then spend endless amounts of tax dollars in litigation to try to take over regulation of the program. This wasteful and anti-democratic scandal must be exposed. O’Connell warns that the litigation process will be rough, and some citizens will lose “both their liberty and their property” (pg.4). It is unconscionable that the MML has chosen to play brutal political hardball against sick people, using taxpayer funds. It is time for the MML to let us present the other side of the story.

They have a hard time understanding that the act was not written with “gaps” or “omissions” that they are called upon to fill with bureaucrats and inspectors. If something is “omitted” it obviously means that the highly experienced writers of this law did not want it in there. Our Act was crafted with extreme care, and was thoroughly examined and revised by the prestigious law firm Dykema, Gosset Inc..  Its goal was to win big and it did. No matter how long it takes, the medical marijuana community will litigate every point, at great cost to taxpayers, until the regulations match the initiative language which passed with 63% in favor. Local officials CAN’T CHANGE THE LAW to take rights away from citizens or to add burdens.

At a Sept. 21, 2010 work session the Michigan Municipal League featured Grand Rapids city attorney Catherine Mish. She said that cities should band together in a “federal supremacy” lawsuit to challenge the validity of the MMMA. She suggested that cities enact moratoria, and then look for “test cases” to use to invalidate the Act – which was passed by a majority of voters in her own county! To generate test cases she suggested that police should arrest a spouse who waters plants that he or she doesn’t have a card for! She wants cities to “park a police car outside the compassion club. Anytime your officers see there’s gatherings inside, as people come out, get into motor vehicles and drive away, pull them over”.

Every new level of fear, restrictions, and inspections means that more innocent people will suffer and die. Most Michiganders would not grow cannabis medicine if they knew the local police would be told and could check on them.

The reality of legal medical marijuana is deeply upsetting to all those who make their living from preying on fellow citizens, all the widely varied functionaries in the prison industrial complex. They will fight for their jobs. They plan to destroy our new act and regain all of their power. (They have been so successful that the USA imprisons about seven times as many people as other advanced nations – an indelible stain on the soul of our nation – but a consistent moneymaker. Now we have a Michigan Attorney General whose stated goal is to reopen prisons and fill them up.) The majority of the “Drug War” is still about cannabis, so Drug Warriors will lose funding and jobs when our society relaxes its attitude toward cannabis. Many law enforcement jobs are directly paid for by terrorizing local families and seizing their home, vehicles, bank accounts, computers, children, boats, etc.. This distinctly un-American practice, called “civil forfeiture”, (no trial or criminal charges are required) has become a major revenue source that the prison industrial complex depends on and fights to preserve. The reaction of these forces, which is now brewing against the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, is about jobs, money, power, and “turf”, it has nothing to do with science or public health. If drug warriors had any way to support their position they would agree to debate.

When observers howl that our new law is poorly written or full of “grey areas” they are simply saying that they are upset that we have a strong law now to protect medical marijuana users. They hate to adjust to the reality that our new law was not written by them, it was written by the opposing side, the “other team”, and it passed with 63% in favor. Obviously it was brilliantly well written if the voters approved it so strongly.

The counterattack against the medical marijuana “Peoples Law” in Michigan by the “Prison Industrial Complex” has begun in deadly earnest (even though the law has been in effect for two years and has caused no problems). Law enforcement feels a threat to their power and their revenue stream and are striking back viciously, as in Oakland County.

Two major essays have recently been offered to provide the intellectual basis for restricting and killing the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.   These are:

The “White Paper”, (how presumptuous, yes, it is printed on white paper) called  “A LOCAL GOVERNMENT VIEW OF THE MICHIGAN MEDICAL MARIJUANA ACT” by Gerald A. Fisher, 63 pg., is the product of the Michigan Municipal League.

The Concurring Opinion in the case of Michigan v. Robert Redden and Torey Clark, by Judge P. J. O’Connell, Sept 14, 2010

These are unremittingly negative documents. O’Connell thinks the MMMA could be a “subterfuge for legalization” (pg. 29). He refers to a Judge Turner, who declared that the MMMA is “one of the worst pieces of legislation that I have ever seen in my life” (page 7, footnote 9). O’Connell says the MMMA was “well crafted in its obfuscations, ambiguous language, etc”.  Fisher puts “medical marijuana” in quotes (pg. 48) and says that qualifying sick people with doctor’s recommendations are “generally described as patients”. O’Connor calls the act “inartfully drafted” (pg.3), and implies that 63% of voters were somehow “tricked” into voting yes for medical marijuana. He quotes Sir Walter Scott and says “O what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive”. My God, isn’t the party that encourages breaking the law and intentionally fighting court battles in order to seize “turf” the one that is “practicing to deceive”?

After careful study it must be assumed that these documents were not created “in good faith”.  It makes you feel sick to read such dark tirades against democracy – which will end up hurting many innocent people. These are paid intellectual “hatchet jobs” by special interests. This can be inferred from the fact that the clumsy, tortured, childishly false “logic” which the authors use to arrive at their predestined conclusions is the very best that they could come up with.  Judge O’Connell begins with the assumption that medical marijuana patients are “fakers” (pg 3, pg 22, pg 29), and then tortures words until he thinks he has a way to invalidate our doctor’s recommendations. These authors are smarter than to actually believe in the arguments they display. Long ago I had to “diagram logic” in my college philosophy classes. I remember puzzling over complex questions. The logical faults in these two documents, however, are “sophomoric”, and their effect could be brutal. Neither of these documents ever once mentions the wisdom and compassion of Michigan voters or the benefit of medical marijuana for Michigan medical patients (or the concepts of safe and “uninterrupted availability” (333.26428(2) in the Act) of medicine).

Most cities in Michigan belong to the Michigan Municipal League, which has decided that cities and townships must now take over the regulation and inspection of every aspect of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Law. This is, of course, directly contrary to the words in the law, which state:

(g) Possession of, or application for, a registry identification card shall not constitute probable cause or reasonable suspicion, nor shall it be used to support the search of the person or property of the person possessing or applying for the registry identification card, or otherwise subject the person or property of the person to inspection by any local, county or state governmental agency.

This is about as clearly as a concept can be expressed using the English language. People participating in the program have three clear rights under this section. They are to be held safe from suspicion, search, or inspection “by ANY state, county, or state governmental agency”.

In order to surmount a seemingly impossible logical, linguistic, and intellectual challenge Mr. Fisher takes on the persona of Big Brother, in the George Orwell novel “1984”. Big Brother said that the people should understand that, really, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and WAR IS PEACE.  Fisher sets out to show that, really, the legal prohibition against search and inspection in our MMMA law means that the gang who paid him obviously must search and inspect. Listen carefully (pg. 55) “Local regulation of distribution activities is implicitly contemplated under the terms of the Act (he just feels it in his bones) in view of the glaring gaps opened by the terms of the Act”, (which could inhibit the behavior of police and SWAT teams).

The logic comes down to “If the act does not let the prison/industrial complex carry out the status quo it must be because they simply forgot to give cities the power to regulate everything. Therefore we can violate the specific wording in the act about search and inspection”. By pg 58 caregivers are required to “Describe all locations…” You will need to file precise reports (pg.58) describing your grow facility, your storage facility (including precise measurements), your security devices, any location where a caregiver might meet with a patient, “detailed specifications of all lights, equipment, and electrical or plumbing or other means”, along with “the address and legal description of the precise premises” (pg.58.)

Try this one (pg. 57) as an example of Orwell’s “Newspeak” – “The requirement of this ordinance is to license a location and not to license persons”. He plans that every city, village, township, and county will expand their bureaucratic grip and have a “medical marijuana officer”, to make sure that all regulations are followed (pg.57 & pg. 63).

Fisher never supplies a hint of compassion or any desire to insure the “uninterrupted availability” (333.26428(2) of the Act) of medicine to patients. He begins his argument by intentionally and egregiously misstating the “fundamental purpose of the act”. Mr. Fisher’s analysis is based on his definition of the “fundamental purpose of the act” (pg 3). He says “it would seem fair to say” (fair to whom?, …not much of an evidentiary standard!), “that the fundamental purpose of the Act is the creation of a private and confidential caregiver – patient relationship to facilitate the lawful cultivation, distribution, and use of marijuana strictly for medical purposes”.

This is disingenuous. Mr. Fisher has latched on to the fundamental implementation mechanism in the act and called it the fundamental purpose. In fact the fundamental purpose of the act relates to its title, “The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act”. The first line of this act says that its purpose is “to allow under state law the Medical use of Marihuana”. We know that a doctor’s recommendation is involved.

Therefore, “it would seem fair to say” that the “fundamental purpose of the Act” is  “to allow under state law the medical use of marihuana when a doctor has recommended its use for specific, enumerated medical conditions”. According to Judge O’Connor (pg. 24, he quotes from the Act) the ballot proposal “was intended to protect from arrest ‘the vast majority of seriously ill people who have a medical need to use marihuana ( MCL 333.26424(2)(6))’”.

Cities and townships certainly have the power to extend the act, within their boundaries, to help insure that qualified patients have safe access to “uninterrupted availability” of the medicine they require. Cities may also refuse to extend the act, but they cannot restrict rights which have been provided by state law. Fisher simply decrees (pg 13) that “primary caregivers and qualifying patients cannot legally form a cooperative and grow marijuana in a shared facility”. Thank you for sharing Gerald, but cities like Ann Arbor (and others) are specifically licensing large grow facilities (and “compassion centers”).

It is a transparent attempt at “chicanery” (pg. 15, O’Connell) to assert that the fundamental initial IMPLEMENTATION MECHANISM outlined in the Act is the fundamental purpose OF THE ACT ITSELF. No amount of authority can turn apples into oranges or wrong into right. Our Act is NOT called the “Michigan Caregiver and Patient Relationship Act”.  In Mr. Fisher’s mind the patients and caregivers (who live in constant terror of people like him) have plenty of protections, but “local governments and the general public are not as clearly protected”(Fisher pg 4).

He feels that cities are in danger because of the MMMA since the “status quo” is so important! Drug warriors maintain that they have an overriding need to be able, because of a plant called cannabis, to smash your door down, shoot the dogs, and take your children, your property, your money, and your freedom. Few Michiganders still support this enforcement scenario. The “status quo” has changed.

Police agencies indulge in an incestuous interbreeding of their own questionable data and opinions. Mr. Fisher and Judge O’Connell constantly cite irrelevant data from California police (which was gathered during a period during which the city of Los Angeles refused to provide any regulation or licensing for dispensaries).

The Michigan Municipal League, through Mr. Fisher, is telling local governments (pg 12) that cannabis businesses will lead to “significant and serious secondary effects”, such as an increase in “out of area criminals in search of prey”, incidents of resale or sharing near pot shops, murder, armed robbery, aggravated assaults, burglary from autos, armed gangs, organized crime, children who might be “subtly influenced”, the “downgrading” of whole neighborhoods, (pg 16) and police officers who may feel inhibited when they are planning to come crashing into your home.

Beyond that, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act will lead to uninspected installations of plumbing and electrical equipment that “may create dangerous health, safety, and fire conditions” (Fisher pg. 16). (We all agree that cardholders who significantly expand their electrical system to grow cannabis must have the job done up to code and then inspected. Our law makes it clear, however, that cardholders may not be subject to any special or discriminatory level of suspicion, search, or inspection.) Michigan cities are now passing illegal laws which restrict patients and caregivers; all of this will be constantly litigated until we get back to the words that were on the ballot in 2008.

The author consistently shows no understanding of cannabis as medicine. He wants a “physician stated dosage and frequency of marijuana consumption” (Fisher, pg.19), ignoring the fact that cannabis dosages are completely individual and variable.

Is it appropriate for the MML to use tax dollars to advocate the destruction of legislation which passed with 63% voting yes, and passed in every one of Michigan’s 83 counties? The first impulse of the MML and Mr. Fisher is to alter the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act into meaninglessness or to stamp it out altogether with a “federal supremacy” lawsuit. The MML must be sued for its ill intentioned profligacy.  Michigan cities that respect democracy should drop out of it. The MML makes it clear that if you follow their outline it will end in mountains of litigation (pg26), but they are shooting for a takeover of the program. They want a “Medical Marijuana officer” in every city (Fisher, pg. 57), and lots more inspectors.


The Michigan Municipal League advocates that the Michigan state legislature change the law that 63% of voters approved. They think that “expressly requiring permits and inspections would be appropriate”, (Fisher, pg. 19) no matter what is said in the law. They doubt they can assemble the ¾ majority which is necessary if they wish to tamper with our law.

FEDERAL SUPREMACY? They then advocate that cities band together and fight a “federal supremacy” lawsuit, to fight against the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act program that was approved by their own voters (Fisher pg. 21-26). Isn’t this a betrayal of their voter’s intent and a huge waste of resources during very tough times? Any public official who spends tax dollars to fight against the wishes of their own voters will see an immediate recall campaign mounted against them.

LOCAL ORDINANCES Mr. Fisher then begins his spooky, Orwellian attempt to craft a local ordinance for Michigan cities and townships. He admits “that the Act mandates that those engaged in lawful cultivation, distribution, and use of medical marijuana must remain anonymous” (pg.39) Given this law that mandates anonymity, he maintains, (pg37) that cities “should be permitted to regulate marijuana cultivation, distribution, and use activities”. Does he really see no contradiction?

Mr. Fisher asserts (pg.43) the difference between addresses and “locations”. “Address” is defined by the Oxford American Dictionary (Avon books, 1982) as “the place where a person lives”. He admits that all patient and caregiver addresses are absolutely confidential according to the law and then says that all the “locations where marihuana cultivation and distribution has been permitted under the Act should be known to law enforcement” (pg. 43). This is the type of Kafkaesque duplicity that damages “the Children”, or anyone who would like to believe in common sense, fair play, or democratic government. Words have actual meanings, even if you are a professor or a judge.

Although 63% of voters approved the wording of our current Medical Marijuana Act the Michigan Municipal League’s response “would be to replace the existing statute” (Fisher pg. 49) with something that more closely resembled their beloved “status quo” (Fisher pg. 45,49,and 62).

Fisher simply declares that “a violation issue arises when a patient dispenses medical marijuana to another patient” (pg. 15). This is absurd, and, if “patient to patient transfer” was made illegal a lot of patients would suffer; patient’s could never be confident of an “uninterrupted availability” (333.26428(2)) of their medicine.

In his conclusion (pg. 48) Mr.  Fisher fully admits that cities will face endless costly litigation if they follow his advice – to break the law of Michigan and try to search or inspect legitimate medical cannabis cardholders in a discriminatory manner. Irate citizens are already suing municipalities (like Wyoming, Michigan), who have tried to remove rights which have been clearly granted by state law. It is strange that Fisher’s vicious and relentlessly confrontational essay concludes with the sentiment “let’s all be friends and work this out”, after he has made such a strident and antidemocratic plea for municipalities to totally take over the program, terrify people with searches and inspections, and make it harder for patients to get their medicine. Given the chilling effect of the attack that Fisher has mounted, on a program that is causing no real problems; we know that people who think like him simply cannot be trusted.

Fisher’s essay for the Michigan Municipal League ends with his creatively atrocious and illegal “SAMPLE CONCEPT OF LICENSING AND REGULATION ORDINANCE” for Michigan cities. It was the most profoundly disturbing anti-democratic, totalitarian document I have ever read, the ultimate triumph of the Orwellian twisting of words until they are said to mean the opposite of their dictionary definition. It is an attack on democracy and on medical patients. If you deeply believe in government “by the people” it makes you sick to read it. On page 55 it says that “The Act requires that information concerning identity and location of caregivers is to be confidential”. He then cites pages of irrelevant “horror stories” from California (gathered when California cities were refusing to provide any regulations for cannabis businesses). By page 57 he has twisted words until all caregivers will have to divulge “the location of a facility” to a local government.

Judge O’Connell says “Many Michiganders are faced with the often unwelcome intrusion of medical marijuana dispensaries” (O’Connell pg. 12). Why be negative? He could come to Ann Arbor, where we have a dozen dispensaries and they have hardly been noticed (Lansing has 18). If we allow marijuana businesses, Fisher says that they will have bad “secondary effects” on children, the neighborhood, and every sort of crime. It is useful in Michigan to present to city officials the major article from the November, 2010 “Ann Arbor Observer” which shows well scrubbed, happy and healthy people showing off their lovely dispensaries and describing their services.  It is titled, “The Wild West, Medical marijuana comes to Ann Arbor”, by John McKenna Rosevear. It is the perfect counter to the “keep fear alive” tactics. It might be on the web by now. I got 150 leftover copies.

The second document which fundamentally threatens our patient’s quality of life is the State of Michigan Court of Appeals concurring opinion of Judge P.J. O’Connell, in the case of Michigan v. Robert Lee Redden and Torey Alison Clark (published Sept 14, 2010)

Judge O’Connell’s 30 page treatise is just his opinion, and has been accorded far too much importance. His argument is illogical and uncalled for. It can be thoroughly demolished by looking at a dictionary, unless the actual meaning of words does not matter. He even directly contradicts himself (on pg. 6 first paragraph – the terms of the act are accurately stated and the word “or” is properly used, then see the law itself (bottom of page 8), noting the accurate use of the word “or”. Then on page 15 O’Connell blusters forth to opine that “or” does not mean “or”. He knows in his heart that most medical marijuana patients are faking it (Pg. 22), so he develops a way to undermine the “dual path” which is outlined in the MMMA for getting doctor recommendations.

The MMMA provides (333.26424(f)) that a doctor can’t get into trouble “solely for providing written certifications, in the course of a bona fide physician-patient relationship and after the physician has completed a full assessment of the qualifying patients medical history or” (yes, the word is “or”) for “stating that, in the physicians professional opinion, a patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefit from the medical use of marijuana to treat or alleviate the patient’s serious or debilitating medical condition”.

So, clearly the law provides two ways in which a person can get a doctor’s recommendation to become a qualifying patient, a) their regular doctor may write the recommendation, or b) a different doctor (maybe a “pot doc”), can look at MEDICAL RECORDS to see if the patient qualifies to use medical marijuana under the terms of the act (that is, whether or not they have records to prove that they have one of the ailments listed under the Act as “qualifying conditions”).

When you visit a doctor in our society the doctor makes written notes on your chart about what is wrong with you and how you are being treated. A patient has the right to get copies of these records to show them to another doctor. It is disingenuous for Judge O’Connell to pretend that he has no awareness of the concept of medical records.

In one mind boggling sentence O’Connell asserts that, “It is beyond question that one doctor treating 100, 500, or 1000 terminally ill patients with a 10 minute examination has not been acting pursuant to bona fide physician-patient relationship”. (Pg. 15, footnote 20)

What a masterpiece of intentional duplicity and pejorative “framing”. NOBODY has EVER said that a person must be “terminally ill” in order to qualify as a medical marijuana patient. I have gut pain that is often debilitating but I can run or swim for many miles, and don’t plan to die soon. (I am 63 and have loved cannabis for 43 years; I wish we could put me and all the legislators and appellate judges 5 miles out into Lake Michigan, and see who makes it to the shore). Given the false way that the sentence is framed his conclusion is indeed “beyond question”.

A 10 minute doctor visit is plenty “bona fide” if the doctor and patient are talking together in person and the patient’s MEDICAL RECORDS clearly indicate that the patient has a medical condition that qualifies them to use medical marijuana under the MMMA. O’Connell seems to be fully aware of this on Page 6 where he claims that “pot docs” will provide certifications for medical marijuana “without bothering to establish EITHER 1) A bona fide physician-patient relationship, OR 2)the existence of a terminal or debilitating medical condition”. If O’Connell was honest enough to admit to the existence of what we call MEDICAL RECORDS he would also have to admit that 10 minutes is far longer than is necessary to 1) Check patient records to make sure the patient has a qualifying condition, 2) Check off one of the qualifying conditions on the State of Michigan “Physician Certification” form and 3) possibly listen to the persons heart and check their blood pressure. They would have time left over to talk about the weather. The “pot doc” at the Ann Arbor compassion center which I run once checked a man’s heart and sent him straight to the hospital, where he needed an operation. Oops, it just happened again yesterday. These patients would not have otherwise seen a doctor, and might have had a stroke or heart attack. Their relationship with our doctor was “bona fide” enough to possibly save their lives. Many people never otherwise go to a doctor; if they are “real men”, or they can’t afford it.

Judge O’Connell seeks to preclude the MMMA  from actually working to serve qualified patients when, on page 15 he says that the word “or” does not mean “or” (as in “OR, for otherwise stating that, in the physicians professional opinion, the patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefit…”). To try to restrict the applicability of the MMMA and save the “status quo” as much as possible O’Connell simply opines (in an obvious attempt at “chicanery” (see pg. 16), that “This provision does NOT create an alternative scenario under which a physician may issue a written certification to a patient in the absence of a bona fide physician – patient relationship with that patient OR A FULL ASSESSMENT OF THE PATIENT’S MEDICAL HISTORY. (Certainly we do not need to show our full medical history from birth to the present, we simply need to prove that we qualify under the terms of the Act. He admits that the word “OR” is present, but denies its meaning. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary (Warner Books, 1990) the word “or” means “an alternative, or the last in a series of choices”, which is EXACTLY what O’Connell said it does NOT mean. The “Oxford American Dictionary”, (Avon Books 1980) defines “or”, conj. “as an alternative”. The 2230 page “Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary” explains (pg. 1360) that “or” is “used to connect words, phrases, or clauses representing alternatives”. We must defend the meaning of language and insist that, in the MMMA, the word “or” means what the word “or” means. Clearly O’Connell’s basic assertion is false. The provision in the act which follows the word “or” DOES “create an alternative scenario under which a physician can issue a written certification”. There are two ways that a patient can get a “bona fide” recommendation from a physician, 1) from their regular doctor 2) from a compassionate “pot doc” who reviews MEDICAL RECORDS TO SEE IF A PATIENT QUALIFIES UNDER THE TERMS OF THE ACT.

If it is true that some doctors are simply “selling recommendations” then this is illegal and must stop. However, if we admit that MEDICAL RECORDS exist, a ten minute appointment is plenty of time to ascertain whether a patient has a malady which qualifies them to use medical marijuana in Michigan. It was excruciatingly well known to the drafters of the MMMA that most doctors (and most huge systems of doctors, like the University of Michigan or the Veterans Administration) are directed to never write recommendations for medical marijuana, (which they don’t understand well and cannot make a lot of money from). The drafters understood from long and brutal experience that the MMMA could not help most patients in the real world unless it included these dual pathways for getting a physicians recommendation. It is clear in the plain wording of the law and was the obvious intent of the framers of the initiative to “create an alternative scenario under which a physician may issue a written certification”. Otherwise, most patients who have a qualifying condition would never have a way to become qualified patients under the Act.

The law was written with the intent that it would be able to function, and was approved with 63% in favor. This is a mandate for implementation, not obstructionism.

His goal of making the law unworkable is illustrated clearly enough (pg. 16) when he declares (as if he can reshape reality), that “labor” is not a cost.  This would be big news to businesses around the globe.  Section 4(e) of the Act “permits a primary caregiver to receive compensation for costs associated with assisting a registered qualifying patient”.  O’Connell declares his odd personal opinion that labor is not a cost as a fact and decrees (footnote 21) that a caregiver “may not receive compensation or otherwise profit from the labor in cultivating Marijuana or otherwise assisting the qualifying patient”. The great majority of people have to make money when they work, so that they can pay bills and buy what they need. The law says that “any such compensation shall NOT constitute the sale of controlled substances” (333.26424(e).

To say that labor is not a cost is another way to say that the MMMA won’t be allowed to actually work in the real world – which is not what 63% of the voters voted for. They voted that medical patients should have safe access to an “uninterrupted availability” (333.26428(2)) of their medicine. In another blazing example of “bad faith” implementation of the MMMA, pg. 18, O’Connor unilaterally declares what should happen to medical patients when they assert the “affirmative defense” (cite) to avoid prosecution for the use of medical marijuana. “It logically follows (he opines) that a defendant resorting to that defense by placing into evidence his or her medical condition necessarily waives any physician-patient privilege that would otherwise limit a prosecutor’s prerogative to question the defendant’s physician or examine pertinent medical records”.  What a breathtaking Orwellian outrage!  This is exactly the moment when your physician-patient confidentiality rights should be most operative, or what good are they? If you assert the affirmative defense that is provided in the law the prosecutor suddenly may become the doctor, the medical inquisitor, asking you completely personal questions about your health, and deciding if you are sick enough to assert the affirmative defense.  This simply isn’t the American way! Prosecutors and judges don’t go to medical school. They must respect the confidentiality of patient records (that is in the act- 333.26426(h)), and only doctors, not lawyers, are qualified to determine whether or not a patient has a “qualifying condition”. The Act provides a penalty of 6 months in jail for any governmental official who breaches the confidentiality of patient records, as was recently done so brazenly by Sheriff Bouchard’s men in Oakland County.

O’Connell (pg.20) denies that the Act provides dual paths for a patient to become certified by a doctor and use the “affirmative defense”. He blatantly replaces the word “or” with the word “and”. He says that Robert Redden and Torey Clark could not use the affirmative defense because “they must first establish that Dr. Eric Eisenbud, the physician who signed their medical marijuana authorizations, treated them in the course of a bona fide physician-patient relationship, AND they must further establish that they have a serious or debilitating medical condition. These judges slipped the word “and” in place of the word “or” and denied the affirmative defense to Bob and Torey. The JUDGES AND PROSECUTORS DECLARED THAT THE MEDICAL JUDGEMENT OF A DOCTOR WAS INVALID.  The law says “or”, NOT “and”, thus O’Connor’s duplicity must be intentional. Doctors are supposed to make medical decisions in the USA. O’Connor himself clearly stated that right concept was “or”, when he states that a valid doctor-patient relationship must be sufficient to “establish EITHER a bona fide physician-patient relationship OR the existence of a terminal or debilitating medical condition”.(pg 6)

Compounding his egregious elitism he issues “a stern warning to all: Do not attempt to interpret this act on your own” (O’Connell pg.7, footnote 10). (How’s THAT for participatory democracy, …only his “priesthood” can know what words mean. This is just plain un-American). He says it would be “prudent” for “citizens of this State to avoid all use of marijuana” until the Supreme Court sorts everything out.

Patients and caregivers obviously work with a different time frame; they are out of time to wait. Today is what matters.

There is no need for ranting about a “bona fide” this or that. O’Connors “protocols” that “must be adhered to” (pg. 20) in order for a valid doctor-patient relationship to be established are pure balderdash that he made up himself (hopefully not at taxpayer expense).The tone of this opinion is unremittingly negative, giving no credit for the compassion that voters were trying to enable. He calls a visit to a “pot doc” a “one time shopping event” (O’Connell, pg.21) – when a ten minute doctor visit is clearly more than enough time to look at medical records and determine whether or not a patient qualifies under the Act. In fact, Dr. Eisenbud (the doctor questioned in Michigan v. Redden) works for the The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, which is the oldest and most strict organization in the field of medical marijuana certification. The THC Foundation organization is so strict that they will not even allow you to make an appointment until AFTER you have provided them with three different notations from valid medical records proving that you have the medical condition that would enable you to qualify as a medical marijuana patient. Judge O’Connell heartlessly, inaccurately, and illegally states that the “affirmative defense is not available unless the testifying physician is the patient’s treating physician for the underlying serious or debilitating condition” (pg.21). He simply makes things up, to thwart the clearly expressed will of the voters and bolster the prison industrial complex.

Everyone agrees that no doctor is allowed to “routinely sell written certifications for profit” (without supporting valid medical records) and that “such certifications must be disallowed under this act”. (O’Connell, pg. 19) Nobody defends fraud.

The source of O’Connells ire becomes clear on page 22. He wants to twist the words of the law to make it more restrictive because “the majority of persons who are becoming certified at this time” are “abusing the written certification process”. Since we patients are mostly “fakers” he knows that he should be able to twist the law until it is unworkable. He wants to limit the number of recommendations a physician can write, but don’t most areas of medicine have specialists who are experts in their specific field?

O’Connell’s opinion constantly shows ignorance of cannabis as medicine. He says that doctors fail “to set any medical boundaries” (pg 15) for cannabis use, not understanding that cannabis dosage is totally individualistic. Idiosyncratic dosage requirements are one of the main reasons that cannabis medicine fell out of fashion in the 1890’s. Aspirin and morphine, for instance, are more predictable; and dosages can be standardized.  Also, “One supposes”, says he, “that most citizens voting for the MMMA envisioned” (he does not explain how he determines what people “envision”), that patients would visit their regular doctors, obtain prescriptions for marijuana and then have the prescription filled at a licensed pharmacy” (pg. 23-24). What a sentence! You can’t get a “prescription” for something that has been (falsely) labeled a Schedule I drug. Does he honestly think that voters had never heard of dispensaries in California and assumed that medical marijuana patients could go to the drugstore? He wants to hold on to the status quo, but the voters are way out ahead of him.

O’Connor provides his lecture about Schedule I drugs as if the federal classification had some validity, but its only validity is in the law. No person who was not in the employ of the prison-industrial complex would agree that cannabis could meet any one of the three standards, all of which must be met to identify a Schedule I drug. First, cannabis does not have a high potential for abuse, even compared to soda pop or french fries, let alone alcohol or heroin. Since I have used cannabis each day for 43 years, I would have noticed by now if there was a problem. Second, cannabis is perfectly safe for medical use. The federal government once declared, through DEA appointed Judge Francis Young, after two years of gathering data, that marijuana was probably the “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man”. Third, cannabis clearly has recognized medical uses within the United States, since 15 states have already passed it into law. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are now qualified patients, using cannabis medicine as needed.

This Schedule I designation is a stain on our national moral character, a harmful anachronism that will make future Americans ashamed of their ancestors. It has damaged, and sometimes devastated, the lives of more than 10 million otherwise law abiding Americans. It is a disgraceful embarrassment, since everyone understands that it is a lie in each detail. No evidence or reason caused cannabis to be listed as a schedule one drug. This “scheduling” system was developed around 1970, when a lawsuit by Professor Timothy Leary derailed the old “tax stamp” law that had been in place since pot was outlawed in 1937. President Nixon told the government to classify cannabis as a schedule I substance, pending the report of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (1972). Nixon’s very conservative commission exhaustively studied the marijuana issue and declared it was a “Signal of Misunderstanding”, and that both possession and small scale sale of marijuana should be made legal. When Nixon found out he immediately promised to ignore the recommendations of his “blue ribbon” commission.

How can intelligent and powerful men, who have sworn fealty to the US constitution, support the damage that results from making the cannabis herb into a Schedule I drug- after they know that it is based on pure vindictive caprice, not science? Law Enforcement hangs on to that Schedule I classification like a pit bull, since the majority of the “drug war” is still based on chasing after cannabis.

Children are damaged when they learn that government will openly lie to them and conduct a cultural war against cannabis with such ferocity that an American is arrested every 37 seconds…and that the next victim could be them. The serious damage from entanglement with the legal system is much more damaging than cannabis to the lives of young people. Schedule I may be the law, but it is immoral to defend it. People who defend Schedule I are the people who, in another age, would have been happy to burn “witches” or gas Jews if that was official government policy.

O’Connor even seems to mock economic growth, new careers, and graduates of the Medical Marijuana Academy! (Pgs. 26 & 28) Medical marijuana is causing a lot of money to be invested in Michigan.  New businesses are rapidly hiring people. These are real jobs that support families, help sick people, and have a future. At this moment in Michigan it is just not right to kill off what could be Michigan’s fastest growing new industry.

“A comprehensive set of administrative rules”, made by “legislative and administrative officials” is what the judge thinks we need. (pg. 28). His ideas, like “log keeping requirements” and “reporting requirements” open the door to the suspicion, search, or inspection that are specifically banned in the act. We have already been there and done that, with the first set of burdensome regulations which were promulgated by the MDCH. It was made clear at a huge public hearing in Lansing (cite) that all burdens on patients and caregivers which were in excess of the text of the Act would be forever litigated until the regulations reflected the words that were on the ballot, which voters approved so overwhelmingly. Certainly a new wiring installation should be up to code and inspected, but this should be done in the normal course of events, with no illegal discriminatory laws aimed at patients and caregivers. The judge says he is merely the bringer of bad news, but no, he is creating bad news by trying to limit and restrict such a popular humanitarian program that seems to work fine.

It is true that a few portions of our law could be tightened up, and the leaders of the medical marijuana community have already agreed to revisions; in subcommittee hearings with Rep. Fred Durhal Jr., on Nov. 16, 2010. We are not being inflexible. We will never compromise, however, on the principle that medical patients, with a doctor’s recommendation, must have safe access to medical marijuana in Michigan.

It may be possible to work things out in Michigan so that all parties will be more satisfied, but that would take “good faith” on the part of people who are deeply invested in perpetuating the status quo of ”SWAT team” type Drug War and civil forfeiture without a conviction in court.

We could at least agree that cities and townships have the “local option” to have dispensaries and major growing operations if they want to. (These would still have to follow the outline of the MMMA).

Patients and caregivers know that we have entered a bright new era in Michigan, full of hope and promise. We will never go back to hiding in fear. We will bring therapeutic cannabis, the pure medicine of Mother Nature, to people who are sick in every corner of Michigan. Forces that would unfairly restrict medical marijuana (or any plant) are purely evil and anti-American. Drug Warriors must fervently hope that there is no God who will judge them when they die.

Patients and caregivers will be polite and quiet and sit through meeting after meeting, but we will fight for the rights of our patients with every bit of our power and resources. It would be a mistake to underestimate our resolve. We operate in every part of the great state of Michigan and we can sustain political activity over time. It would be a great mistake for anyone to try to undermine the gains that medical patients have made through the democratic process. Any person or entity that attacks the fundamental purpose or implementation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act will have an unpleasant time of it.

We must begin by unmasking the antidemocratic and totalitarian power grab which has been unleashed in Michigan cities by the Michigan Municipal League. If groups of citizens planned together to break the law it would be called a “conspiracy”, but the local government “powers that be” are planning to “smash and grab” the MMMA.  A huge voter mandate approved specific wording about medical marijuana, and that initiative is now the law. Either the MML should let medical marijuana interests fully join in the discussion, or there must be negative consequences for their behavior.

As for the judge, he should be seen as a self righteous, irrelevant meddler – a bearer of “bad faith”.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; certainly for advocates of medical marijuana.

Chuck Ream   11/2010


A note from my attorney:

The Court of Appeals operates in three-judge panels.  O’Connell’s opinion is not the majority opinion.  He concurred (agreed) with the result the majority reached, but he could not resist writing a separate opinion discussing issues that were not before the court.  Therefore, much of what he had to say is “obiter dicta”, meaning something “said by the way.”  The fact that parts are dicta, plus the fact that it is only a concurring opinion, means that his comments are not controlling law:  they are not binding on lower courts.  However, lower courts may find his analysis persuasive.  Since this case is the first published opinion by the Court of Appeals on medical marijuana, lawyers on both sides will be scouring both the majority and the concurring opinions for anything that can help them.

The whole opinion is hostile to medical marijuana.  You may be asking “Who is this guy?”  O’Connell is a former prosecutor from Republicanland, so it is no wonder that he thinks the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act is a fraud on the public.  I have attached his biography from the Court of Appeals Website.

Why Are We the “Safer Michigan Coalition”?

Why Are We the “Safer Michigan Coalition”?

This post was originally published October 3, 2014 10:00 pm by Chuck Ream. It has been recreated in a rebuild of the site.


The end of cannabis prohibition would make Michigan communities safer, without new funds, in part because police would have more time to solve or prevent real crimes that have victims. This is a scientific fact, not an opinion, and is supported by data cited here.

Fewer officers are available in this time of diminishing budgets. Police need to be intensely focused on the safety of the community, not wasting time on something that the average voter doesn’t see as a significant problem.

Most Americans agree that cannabis should be taxed and regulated like alcohol, which would generate a new revenue stream for governments, and reduce its availability to minors.

To vote yes for a cannabis law reform initiative, a voter doesn’t have to like cannabis – or know or care anything about Marijuana. They only have to know that local law enforcement dollars would be better spent on protecting their safety or finding criminals than on persecuting cannabis consumers.

It is relatively unknown that law enforcement in the USA has been continually less effective at finding real criminals since it began to focus on Drug War. Murderers, rapists and robbers are apprehended far less often today than they were when Drug War began in earnest in 1971.

Data by Riedel, (2008) (1) “describes the decline in the percent of homicides
resulting inarrests and charges from over 90% in 1960 to 61% in 2006”

Police in other industrial countries are far more successful at solving homicides (Japan 95%, Australia 86%, England and Wales 81%, Canada 73%). Arrest “clearances” are the most basic performance measures of law enforcement, raising questions about the downward trajectory of law enforcement success in the USA. During the Drug War, success at solving crime has dropped quickly as arrests, incarceration, and spending shoot skyward.

The percentage of rapes and robberies “cleared by arrest” has declined far more than
homicides. (2) Burglary and car theft appear to be low risk occupations.

Criminal justice author Scott Christianson points out that while crime in the USA has dropped the number of arrests went from 3.3 million in 1960 to 14 million in 2004. He asks:

“…if reported crime has been going down and arrests have gone up, what
accounts for the plummeting arrest clearance rates
for murder, robbery, rape, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft?

Part of the answer must involve drug law enforcement…. Instead of arresting suspects for burglaries and other serious reported crimes, cops today spend much of their energy going after illegal drugs. Their arrest rate for drug possession (especially marijuana) has shot up more than 500 times from what it was in 1965.” (3)

Data from Ousey and Lee (2010) was released “against the backdrop of the precipitous decline in urban homicide clearance over the past several decades”. The authors make it clear that “there are several good reasons why this trend in clearance rates is disconcerting…. First, it raises questions about the effectiveness of recent law enforcement policies and practices…it seems curious that homicide clearance rates have been declining during a period in which incarceration rates have been sharply rising…. Second, it signals a decline in punishment certainty and threatens to undermine deterrence principles, a key foundation of our criminal justice system. Finally, lower clearance rates indicate that the state is ineffective at insulating citizens from violent offenders, which may contribute to negative social reactions such as loss of faith in public officials, an increased sense of fear and insecurity, and a general proliferation of firearms….” (4)

It is sometimes argued that small scale cannabis arrests serve to reduce the amount of serious or violent crime.

The “broken windows” theory of public safety asserts that a police emphasis on prosecuting small crimes will lead to the prevention of larger crimes. The “broken windows” strategy has been pursued with vigor in New York City under Mayor’s Giuliani and Bloomberg.

Data from Harcourt and Ludwig at the University of Chicago prove that, if they have any effect, small scale pot arrests increase the frequency of other crimes. The authors concluded that pot arrests took officers off the street for long periods of time and distracted them from being able to focus on fighting other crime. They found that “New York City’s marijuana policing strategy is having exactly the wrong effect on serious crime – increasing it, rather than decreasing it”. Veteran cops call pot busts “a waste of time”. These arrests drain time and resources not only from police, but also from courts, jails, prosecutors, and public defenders. (5)

Criminologist Harry Levine (2010) asks, “Is this what Americans want their police to be doing – arresting enormous numbers of young people, disproportionately Black and Latino, and destroying their futures, for…pot possession?” (6)

Derek Copp, a young student recently living near Grand Rapids, almost had no future. Officers looking for pot shot him in the chest with a .40 caliber Glock, in his bedroom, in March of 2009. The officer who shot him is still on the job! Derek’s attorney, Fred Dilley, told the press (John Tunison, The Grand Rapids Press, 3/9/2011) “This lawsuit questions the actions of West Michigan Law Enforcement Agencies carrying out SWAT team assaults with automatic weapons and full battle gear against college honor students and others with no prior criminal records who are believed to be in the possession of small amounts of marijuana”.

President Jimmy Carter said long ago, “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to the individual than the use of the drug itself.”

Americans are usually surprised to learn that the effectiveness of law enforcement at solving crime has taken a dive since police turned their effort to Drug War. What about the expensive SWAT and CSI teams, new federal funds, and forensics labs with DNA testing…don’t they work? A top police scholar, Professor David Bailey of the State University of New York said, “I’ve been involved in the field for 40 years and best as I can tell, nobody has even raised this stuff. Hearing it now is like being hit by a bus”. (7)

If cannabis is damaging to our society we should not make it a low priority. However, data from Thomas and Davis (2009) shows that about 94% of the “social costs” of cannabis have to do with the costs of enforcement, not the cost of health problems. The author’s state: “variations in risk, harms and cost need to be taken into account as we think about further efforts to deal with the use of these three substances… (Cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco). Efforts to reduce social costs related to cannabis, for example, will likely involve shifting its legal status by decriminalizing casual use, to reduce the high enforcement costs. Such a shift may be warranted given the apparent lower health risk associated with most cannabis use” (8)

We should also consider the crime that Drug War directly causes, from turf battles between dealers, to organized crime and gruesome Mexican cartels. This chaotic brutality is unnecessary. There is no situation where a problem with dangerous drugs is improved by turning their manufacture and distribution over to criminal gangs.

When police try to catch a real criminal they may run into trouble, even gunfire, and they aren’t allowed to plunder the automobiles, houses, bank accounts, and other property owned by that criminal. If they ferret out a cannabis cultivator with a few plants they know that the person will usually be peaceful and they can pillage at will. Police prefer to chase around after pot, but wouldn’t your family be better protected if officers were preventing crime or finding real criminals?


  1. Riedel, Marc, Homicide Arrest Clearance: A Review of the Literature, Sociology Compass 2/4,(2008), 1145-1164

  2. U.S. Department of Justice. Crime in the United States. (2006). “Clearances”

  3. Christianson, S. (2006). “Questioning US arrest statistics.” Christian Science Monitor, Commentary, January 18, 2006.

  4. Ousey, Graham C., and Lee, Matthew R., “To Know the Unknown: The Decline in Homicide Clearance Rates, 1980 – 2000. Criminal Justice Review 2010 35:141, Originally published online Nov 15, 2009.

  5. Harcourt. B. E., and J. Ludwig. “Reefer Madness: Broken Windows Policing and Misdemeanor Marijuana Arrests in New York City, 1989 – 2000.” 2007, Criminology and Public Policy 6:1, 16582

  6. Levine, Harry G., “Arrest Statistics and Racism”, in “The Pot Book” by Holland, Julie, MD, Park Street Press, 2010, p. 206

  7. Christianson, S. (2006). “Questioning US arrest statistics.” Christian Science Monitor, Commentary, January 18, 2006.

  8. Thomas, Gerald and Davis, Chris, “Cannabis, tobacco and alcohol use in Canada: Comparing risks of harm and costs to society”, in Visions: British Columbia’s Health and Addictions Journal, 2009, Vol. 5, No. 4, p. 11

2014 Election Report to Safer Michigan Coalition

2014 Election Report to Safer Michigan Coalition

This post was originally published November 8, 2014 7:16 pm by Chuck Ream. It has been recreated in a rebuild of the site.

Thanks and congratulations to every person who helped us carry the torch of cannabis freedom forward! We won on Nov. 4, 2014 in Saginaw – pop. 50,790, Mount Pleasant – pop. 26,016, Berkley –pop. 14,070, Port Huron – pop 30,184, Huntington Woods – pop. 6,238 and Pleasant Ridge pop. 2,526.

Lapeer – pop 8,841, lost by 6 votes. Frankfort – pop. 1,286, Onaway pop. 880, Clare pop. 3,118, and Harrison – pop. 2,114 were unsuccessful by wider margins. When you look at the numbers it seems that the real determinant of whether we won or lost is how rural the city is. It seems that majorities of voters in small towns, far from urban centers, are not with us at this time. People who run initiatives in very rural areas are extraordinarily brave, but may find it impossible to win. Before running initiatives in these areas more careful study must be done. Many thanks to Cary and David – and H.B. in Saginaw, to Brandon, Jericho, and Ian in Mount Pleasant, to Laura in Port Huron, and Andrew and Debra for Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, and Berkeley! Great thanks also to Bernard for Lapeer, what a squeaker, Rev. Steve and Laura for Frankfort, Ron and Brad for Onaway, & Jamie and Rick and the whole up north crew for getting us on the ballot in Clare and Harrison. We “liberated” more cities than ever before this year; our eight wins in 2014 (including the August wins in Hazel Park and Oak Park) top the 5 wins of 2012. Some cannabis consumers in a few of these cities will get better treatment. Leaders who won should press local leaders to respect their voters’ wishes. You can check and see if pot got more votes than they did. It is sad that our people in the small towns that lost won’t have the tiny extra layer of protection that a citywide victory may bring. We couldn’t have made this progress without wonderful activist donors, who gave money to us. We are forever grateful for the $6500 that was given to our Safer Michigan Coalition Political Action Committee. These donors know that it’s important to always create new political victories to a) help protect and implement safe access to medical cannabis products in Michigan and b) build the momentum for cannabis legalization in Michigan. State Rep. Jeff Irwin emailed us on Nov. 6. He told us that we should not look at this as winning 6 and losing 5 in november, we should realize that there are about 165,000 people in places that votes yes, and a total of about 16,000 in cities voting no. Hindsight is a perfect 20/20. We took a calculated risk to operate in small rural cities where nobody had ever tried something like this. It was a learning experience that will be heeded in the future. These losses were a shock to me. We know, however, that we can’t win a long war without losing a few small battles. We see that it will be no easy “cakewalk” to legalization; it will be a long hard struggle in Michigan, involving hard working activists who have resources and guts. We have been on a roll with these initiatives for 10 years, never a loss, batting 1000. In that context, when a competent person wanted to run a ballot initiative we said yes. We have learned hard lessons from our 2014 results. We will demonstrate that new knowledge in future campaigns. I, (Chuck) did not do a serious enough investigation of the smaller cities to be sure that we would win. We should at least have had a clear knowledge of such things as a) how the town voted on Medical Marijuana in 2008 b) What is the percentage of Democrats and Republicans, c) is the median age older or younger than average. ..& now we must add, d) are they near to or part of major population centers. Our petition wording this year was very bold; it was to enable the “de facto” legalization of an ounce of marijuana. We should use our Lowest Law Enforcement Priority (LLEP) initiative template wherever we have the slightest chance of losing. It is easy to pass, since the voter is voting about spending priorities, not really marijuana. Also, no observers care about the fine points of which proposal is on the ballot – They just think, “Is this a pot law reform proposal? Did it win or lose? By how much?” No LLEP has ever lost. They win by big margins and indicate that voters want cannabis law reform (the LLEP in Pleasant Ridge had 1,103 “yes” votes to 430 “no” votes). In hindsight, possibly we should have run LLEP’s in the small cities. I don’t mean to be rude, but our movement can’t risk a loss in a place most Michiganders have never heard of. The Safer Michigan Coalition will be involved in many more victories for cannabis law reform in Michigan cities. We will not be timid, but at the same time we will be more circumspect in our analysis. There will never again be a group of losses. We will take planning and prognostication even more seriously. Our goal and mission will always be to produce victories. Our attitude will still be “Full steam ahead and damn the torpedo’s”, – but with finesse gained from experience. At this time cities under consideration for the ballot in 2015, (a “non election year”, but we don’t seem to let that stop us) are East Lansing, Portage, Utica, Traverse City, Gross Pointe Park, Gaylord, Montrose, and Keego Harbor. Also see SAFER MICHIGAN COALITION POST ELECTION STATEMENT – click on “2014 Campaigns”


Down in the Weeds

Down in the Weeds

This post was originally published December 22, 2014 8:47 pm by padlock. It has been recreated in a rebuild of the site.

Marijuana Grassroots Advocacy Case Study

How a Small Group of Marijuana Activists With an Even Smaller Budget is Using Grassroots Advocacy to Win at the Local Level

As the holidays draw closer, you could have a fie pot party in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. You and your adult friends could each bring up to an ounce of marijuana and toke up as you have your eggnog, gingerbread and other holiday treats — all without any fear of the local police crashing through the door.

Thanks to voters who supported a legalization measure in November, the personal use of marijuana is now perfectly legal in Mount Pleasant. And Saginaw. And Berkley. And Port Huron, too. Indeed, this year was a big one for supporters of legalization in Michigan, who won referendums to liberalize marijuana in eight of 13 towns across the state — all on a budget so small, it would make most advocates in Washington gasp.

Of course, the slew of victories was no coincidence. Rather, they were the result of a highly orchestrated advocacy campaign designed to build momentum for legalizing the drug across the Wolverine State. Whether or not they achieve that goal, the effort could serve as a model for other advocacy groups who want to affect change and need to look outside Washington to do it.

“What it’s designed to do is to send a message to the Capitol that the population centers around the state really want to see a signifiant shift in the way personal possession laws are treated,” said Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for marijuana legalization nationwide. “The strategy is to change local ordinances. At a certain point the legislators have to look at that and say, ‘why do we maintain criminal penalties when most of the voters in the state do not support that?’”

Planting the Seeds

The marijuana activists in Michigan are following a path well worn by advocacy groups that cannot get legislation in Washington. When issues cannot pass in Congress, advocates often look to the states. And if they cannot win in state legislatures, they sometimes turn to the locals. Over the years, advocates have used a state-focused approach to push everything from same-sex marriage initiatives to electricity deregulation. It often works. And it appears to be gaining traction in Michigan.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In Michigan, the cities and towns were relatively small — turnout in some cases was in the hundreds — and the margins were sometimes narrow. In Lapeer, for example, voters were so split that the measure failed by a mere six votes, and a recount is underway.

Winning the Weed War in Michigan*

With a small group of volunteers and an even smaller budget, marijuana advocates were able to win ballot measures in 8 out of 13 cities and towns across Michigan in the primary and general elections. Here’s how they fared.

Gerry Gunster, a veteran issue advocacy professional and CEO of Goddard Gunster in Washington, said ballot measure campaigns are won by leveraging solid research, tapping into local concerns and nuances and — perhaps most important — tying the marijuana issue to the self-interest of Michigan voters.

“If you want to convince voters that decriminalizing marijuana is in their best interests, you have to explain how the issue will impact them at a local, personal level,” he wrote in an email. “When we’re talking about local initiatives and referenda of any kind, connecting with the self-interests of voters often means making your issue feel tangible to the voter.”

Listen to the Polls

Because every state, city and town is different, local knowledge is as important to ballot initiatives as it is to hunting and fihing. Those who know the local terrain and waters will be the ones who come home with the prize.

“Knowing your territory inside and out is a fundamental fist step to filding a local campaign,” Gunster wrote. “That means hiring local experts is key. These ground teams and consultants will understand the nuances of your issue better than anyone.” Thereafter, polling becomes the campaign’s best friend, providing a radar that shows where the issue is gaining traction and which messages are resonating. This allows campaigns to allocate resources accordingly.

“Research should guide your every step,” Gunster wrote. “Research helps a campaign pinpoint effective messaging. But it takes discipline to adhere to those fidings—no matter what. Too often campaigns fail because someone decided to go off message.

“Remember: The research doesn’t lie. Avoid what we call ‘the false consensus effect,’ whereby you guess at what messages will resonate with your target audiences. When it comes to predicting the behaviors of others, your gut isn’t good enough. Listen to the polls.”

Gunster also is a big believer in fiding third-party advocates such a community leader, a business owner or a local mom, to carry the message. “Whoever they are, they should be respected by your community,” he wrote. “No one wants to hear messages about their community from an outsider. Your third-party messengers should always serve as the face of your campaign.”

Momentum for Marijuana

So, how did the marijuana campaigns succeed in Michigan? The strategy is not too different from the playbook that Gunster described. And, while the laws and regulations will be different in every state, advocates elsewhere can learn something useful from Michigan’s marijuana campaigns.

For starters, the Michigan activists had some national momentum on their side. Colorado and Washington passed legalization measures in 2012 and Oregon followed suit this year. Overall, 23 states and the District of Columbia now allow medical marijuana in some way and 17 have decriminalization measures of some sort. The federal government has made it clear it will not move to block such efforts, and activists expect to see attempts in states like Arizona, California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts next.

Some advocates say public sentiment has swung, and this is akin to the fall of prohibition in the 1930s. Indeed, a nationwide Gallup Poll taken a decade ago showed almost two-thirds of Americans were opposed to legalization. In October, the poll showed they are narrowly divided, with 51 percent saying marijuana should be legalized and 47 percent saying it should not (the margin of error was four percentage points).

At the same time, public opinion is not the entire story. “Some news outlets want to attribute the success of decriminalization campaigns to a growing public tolerance of marijuana,” Gunster wrote. “But tolerance alone doesn’t explain the wins. Campaigns that made the issue of decriminalization important to voters can be credited with the successes.”

Momentum in Michigan

Indeed, the advocates in Michigan have been working for years and they started small. Michigan law allows an initiative to be put on the ballot in individual cities by obtaining signatures from 5 percent of registered voters. The initiatives change city charters, and thus can be used to target local marijuana laws. While this is a tall order in a large city with hundreds of thousands of residents, it is far more achievable in smaller municipalities.

“We can’t control the legislature and we don’t have the money for a statewide initiative,” said Chuck Ream, a former kindergarten teacher who is now executive director of the Safer Michigan Coalition. “The only thing we can do is keep lobbying and keep running local initiatives, which at least we can control. … We put them up there and we win. We don’t beg.”

The groups that are pushing changes to marijuana laws have developed messaging that resonates in some demographics. Often, it revolves around personal freedoms. But another line of argument — and perhaps one more useful across the political spectrum — is that law enforcement agencies should be using their time and resources to crack down on more meaningful crime.

“There is much more serious crime that goes unsolved and law enforcement should not be directing its resources going after people who are in possession of a small amount of marijuana,” Lindsey said. “It always comes down to law enforcement resources.”

Momentum for Marijuana

The liberalization of marijuana laws has taken place nationwide, and is expected to continue in 2016. The epicenter was in the west, where states like Oregon, Colorado and Washington have fully embraced legalization.

Using polling to identify areas that may be receptive, activists target towns and begin campaigns for signatures using only volunteers. In a small town, just four or fie volunteers can create a presence. In this year’s efforts, there were no email, social media or print campaigns — and defiitely no air time. Rather, the activists — some of them local — chatted up leaders at City Hall and then got out and knocked on doors.

“We would go and just ask the person if they were registered to vote and then give them the pitch,” said Tim Beck, the former owner of an insurance agency who is now chairman of the Safer Michigan Coalition. “Others we would go to festivals in the summer. It was one-on-one contact. It was just old fashioned … one-on-one hard work.”

Cost-Effective Advocacy

Because marijuana is a captivating topic, the campaigns also typically got news coverage, and so advocates could rely on earned media to get the word out. In cities like Mount Pleasant, where fewer than 4,400 people voted out of a population of about 26,000, the strategy was very effective. They won with 62 percent of the vote.

It was also very cost effective. The Michigan advocates were not floded with money from national organizations. Nor did they need it. Rather, the entire 2014 marijuana effort in Michigan was run with about 70 campaign volunteers, Beck said. The budget for campaigning in 11 towns (they took on 11 towns in the general election and two in the primary) was roughly $12,000, and most was used to cover legal expenses and the fees associated with getting on the ballot. In many cases, the volunteers paid expenses from their own pockets. For example, the recount in Lapeer cost less than $100 to enact. The campaign’s local attorney just paid it.

The strategy takes patience. But it does appear to be working. Pro-marijuana advocates have helped to install legalization and decriminalization laws in 17 cities and towns across Michigan since 2011. In fact, until this year, they had not posted any losses in municipalities.

Of course, as in all long-term campaigns, there have been some missteps. Michigan’s advocates point to the four losses (the outcome in Lapeer is still uncertain, pending the recount) in small, rural communities as an example of where they diverted from their playbook in order to experiment. “We dropped the ball,” Beck said “[We] should have drove up north, went down to city hall, talked to people and got a general idea of what was going in those towns. Shame on us…we didn’t do that…we would have had a better flvor of the community.”

Gunster said that, compared to candidate campaigns, ballot measures in general can be far less predictable.

“You aren’t asking individuals to vote for or against a human being, you are asking them to vote for or against an idea,” he wrote. “And that can be a challenge. Ballot measure campaigns can often be more volatile than candidate campaigns. The campaign graveyard is littered with ballot measures that at one time boasted broad support only to lose steam weeks or even days prior to an election.”

In the case of Michigan, the losses may not have a major impact on momentum. Marijuana advocates have won far more than they lost. But leaders were disappointed to see the undefeated streak end.

“It was very upsetting to me personally,” Ream said. “We lost in these little tiny places.”


Building the Case

As for the prospects of a statewide referendum, leaders approach it with a healthy skepticism. The effort would require north of 250,000 signatures to get on the ballot and advocates estimate that the campaign would cost at least $1 million. Advocates say that statewide support in Michigan, which is home to nearly 10 million people, needs to poll close to 60 percent to attract well-fianced backers. And those polling numbers, they say, are simply not there yet. Support for statewide legalization hovers around 50 percent, not too far from the national average. Indeed, a statewide initiative it has been tried three times in Michigan, to no avail.

“When you are changing statewide laws, you are going to have a battle,” Beck said. “The political class is not as deeply threatened by local ballot initiatives as they are with state [initiatives]. We have not been able to fid anyone willing to do this. We have no interest whatsoever to attempt a statewide initiative unless we run very well in the polls.” Lindsey, who works for the national Marijuana Policy Project, which could provide some of the needed support, was not overly optimistic. “There has been talk about it,” he said. “I don’t know how much support we are really going to see for it. Voter initiatives are extraordinarily time intensive and cost a great deal of money.”

Said Beck: “We understand … we have no resentment towards MPP and no attitude towards it. The big money people want to see poll numbers. That’s the problem.” Meanwhile, however, advocates continue building the case town-by-town. They believe in the work they do, and that each victory brings tangible benefis. “My thing has always been ideologically based,” Beck said. “The drug war has been a total disaster in this country … it has wasted lives, it has wasted time. Its just downright wrong and deeply flwed.”

As a result of the local strategy, however, more than 1.5 million people in Michigan now live where marijuana is decriminalized, Beck said. As he put it, “We are building momentum.”