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Pot, Polls and Politics

After a lifetime in law enforcement former Detroit Police Chief Dr. Isaiah “Ike” McKinnon was first moved to change his outlook on Michigan’s draconian marijuana laws by my own case was particularly thrilling: “John Sinclair was arrested for one or two joints and sentenced [in 1969] to some ridiculous amount of time,” he told Larry Gabriel of the Metro Times, “and that stood out for me.”

Well, it might have taken him awhile — 42 years! — to say something, but what a breath of fresh air. And the testimony of another diligent copper, Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) — one of my most favorite organizations in the United States — was even more provocative: “To come to the point,” Franklin says, “where you think all of this work in drug enforcement has really been problematic for my community, it’s kind of hard to swallow.”

Brother Gabriel summed my position as eloquently as possible when he wrote, “Those who argue for a total armistice on drugs take the position that most of the problems and violence associated with drugs is caused by prohibition itself. They say there wouldn’t be drug cartels if drugs were legal and regulated. They believe drug addiction should be treated as a public health issue. … Not to mention that the War on Drugs has been an unequivocal failure.” Yes, and amen to that.

On the other hand, the sick thing is that the cops have known for a long time that the marijuana laws are just a ruse to let them hassle and prosecute smokers for operating outside the parameters of acceptability as far as conventional morality is concerned. Even when the voting public has begun to recognize — by a ratio of almost 2-to-1 — the medical benefits of cannabis use, and continues to inch toward majority acceptance of recreational use as well, the law enforcement establishment is loath to surrender its prerogatives because it reaps such incredible rewards from the state of marijuana prohibition.

LEAP’s Neill Franklin concludes that “at least with marijuana, the majority of the people have moved their position.” A recent Gallup Poll surveyed a total of more than 1,000 voters from all 50 states, reporting that the percentage in favor of ending prohibition completely has swelled to 50 percent of Americans, with a majority of 53-54 percent in our part of the country.

Gallup has been polling Americans about legalizing marijuana since 1969, when it was favored by only 12 percent of the populace. This level of support remained stable into the mid-1990s until the medical marijuana movement began to enlighten millions of inquisitive citizens and support for legalization grew to 30 percent in 2000, then to 40 percent by 2009.

Now, in Gallup’s annual crime survey for 2011, fully half of Americans surveyed have endorsed ending marijuana prohibition for good. This is a new high mark, and many activists in the movement to legalize marijuana are heartened as never before.

Curt Guyette’s excellent cover story in the Pot Issue emphasized that here in Michigan, where right-wing office-holders like General Schuette are still swinging the sword of uptight righteousness against medical marijuana patients and their caregivers, something like 16 separate anti-marijuana bills aimed at the medical community are winding their way through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Guyette pointed out, “Fortunately for those who want to see patients and caregivers protected, any bill that seeks to change the voter-approved measure would have to obtain a super-majority of 75 percent in both houses of the Legislature.”

Still, the forces of activism in Michigan are burning the midnight oil trying to devise a final solution to this avalanche of sheer idiocy that keeps rumbling in Lansing despite the public’s clearly expressed opposition to the pig-headed crusade of the phony morality warriors who advance the anti-marijuana gospel with the fervor of biblical creationists and Holocaust deniers.

A group of activists who meet every Monday evening at the offices of attorney Matt Abel, “the Cannabis Counsel” (full disclosure: Matt Abel is my close friend and personal attorney) is weighing the merits of going back to the voters with another ballot initiative in time for the November 2012 election; they continue to discuss the proper course to embrace.

As Guyette put it, “Should voters be asked to support a measure that explicitly calls for the legalization of dispensaries? Or a measure that calls for decriminalization for everyone? Or should they go all the way and seek to completely end prohibition in Michigan? … Standing by and relying on the courts and politicians isn’t really a viable option.” As Matt Abel puts it, “People on our side have no choice but to fight.”

The Abel group has seriously been contemplating a push for full legalization — they call it “ending marijuana prohibition” — and working on a draft of the actual language for the initiative to be submitted to the voters, although recent word is that a Michigan poll said to have been commissioned by members of the group has yielded unpromising results.

The decriminalization proponents, who contend that the votes may not yet be there for a legalization initiative in 2012, include the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers, a trade association for dispensaries, cannabis cooperatives and compassion clubs, and a group based in Flint called Vote Green, organized by cannabis businessman and Michigan Medical Marijuana Report publisher Ben Horner. (Full disclosure: I also write a monthly MMMR column for Ben Horner.)

Horner has been conducting meetings with cannabis activists in several cities around the state, planting the seeds for a statewide marijuana initiative and enlisting volunteers to organize a voters’ movement that can effectively challenge the regressive forces in the state’s Legislature and their allies in the court system. He has consulted veteran activists like Tim Beck, attends the weekly sessions at Matt Abel’s office in Detroit, and has commissioned his own poll of Michigan voters that indicates support for decriminalization is at 57-58 percent and for legalization more like 50 percent.

Horner has also produced a concise half-hour video presentation of the history of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act and its effects, called Grass Roots, with testimony from Beck, Abel, Michigan NORML officials and a number of impressively articulate medical marijuana patients. Horner plans to circulate the film on the Internet, as a DVD, and hopefully through commercial television buys as an informational and organizational tool in support of the 2012 petition drive.

Whatever conclusion the activists reach in terms of the actual wording of the petition and its ultimate intention — legalization or decriminalization — it seems reasonable to project that these forces will unite around a single objective and mount a serious campaign to get the police as far out of the lives of marijuana patients and recreational smokers as humanly possible.

My prayer is that a solution will be achieved by early December and the 2012 initiative will be kicked off at the 40th anniversary reunion celebration of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally being planned for Masonic Temple on December 10. Stay tuned.

John Sinclair, founder of the White Panthers, is a poet. His latest book is It’s All Good.

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