The small ski town of Breckenridge, Colorado recently made national headlines after voters approved a measure to decriminalize marijuana use for adults. The vote will surely inspire other towns to try and make their own rules on marijuana until state and federal laws catch up to the will of voters. Its important to note that Breckenridge’s success may not of happened without the example Denver set for the state by passing a decriminalization measure 4 years earlier. Want more sensible marijuana laws in your town? The following cities help draw a blueprint for marijuana activists at the local level.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Almost 40 years ago, influenced by harsh state laws, Ann Arbor voters passed the Marijuana Ordinance of 1972 which made possession of less than 2 ounces a $5 ticket. It took only 5 months for a state judge to rule the ordinance unconstitutional which resulted in the city council repealing the ordinance. A year later the voters overruled the council’s decision by amending the city charter to declare that city police had to send all marijuana cases to the Ann Arbor city attorney; and the city attorney could not send the case to any other authority for prosecution. In doing so, the provision effectively denied state courts the opportunity to declare the measure unconstitutional, which had occurred in 1972. The same day, the neighboring city of Ypsilanti adopted a similar measure. In 2000, Ann Arbor passed an ordinance allowing the cultivation and use of medical marijuana which paved the way for Michigan’s first statewide medical marijuana law in 2008.
In 1973, Berkeley passed The Marijuana Ordinance I, which forbid law enforcement from arresting persons for cannabis related crimes unless cleared by the City Council. Like happened in Ann Arbor, A California Superior Court Judge struck the ordinance down because it violated city code that states the City Manager has discretion over police personnel. In 1979, Berkeley passed The Marijuana Ordinance II, which made the enforcement of cannabis laws–including cultivation, sale, and transport—-the lowest priority for law enforcement, banned the expenditure of funds for enforcement of cannabis statutes, allowed residents to grow cannabis and report any theft of cannabis plants to law enforcement, and even directed the City Council to lobby in favor of the decriminalization and legalization of cannabis.
Since 1971, Madison has been home of the Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival. In 1977, Madison voters passed ordinance 23.20, which made possession of about an ounce legal when used for “personal use in a private place”. In 2007, The Dane County district attorney announced that his office would no longer file any charges against anyone in the county caught with less than once ounce or paraphernalia. Although the announcement cited lack of resources for the decision, it’s also likely due to the fact that roughly half the county’s population lives in Madison.
Initiative 75 (I-75) was passed by Seattle voters in 2003 which not only made marijuana the cities lowest law enforcement priority but also setup a review board to see how things worked out afterwards. About 4 years later, in 2008, the board released their final review which said that marijuana use, crime and public health risks had not risen. The report also noted there was a decrease in “adults experiencing the consequences of involvement in the criminal justice system” and a slight increase in public safety officers availability for other priorities. Imagine that.
Columbia is home to the University of Missouri and many local colleges. Over 1/2 the population posses a bachelor’s degreeand over 1/4 hold graduate degrees, making it one of the most educated cities in the United States. In 2004 Columbia voters widely approved two initiatives. The first allowed patients to be prescribed medical marijuana by a doctor and the second made marijuana the lowest priority for police and set a max fine at $250 with no possibility of arrest or incarceration for less than 1.2 ounces. Shortly after the approval, the Columbia city council changed the law without voters consent to only apply to first time offenders. In 2009, the tiny Missouri towns of Cliff Village and Cottleville used Columbia as an example to pass their own medical marijuana laws.
Carbondale is home to Southern Illinois University and in 2004, approved the small ordinance which allows the city to fine offenders possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana or paraphernalia rather than sending the case to the State’s Attorney’s Office or the county court system. While the 10 gram limit seems low to many marijuana consumers, Carbondale has at least taken steps to protect people from criminal records and incarceration.
In 2005, Denver voters passed the The Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative which made Denver the first U.S city to actually legalize marijuana and treat it just like alcohol. Under the initiative, an adult can legally possess up to 1 ounce, but marijuana use in public, by people under 21, or while driving all remain illegal, just like alcohol. Similar to Breckenridge, Denver’s initiative is hailed as a symbolic measure due to the possibility of being prosecuted under state and federal laws.
The college town of Lawrence became an unfortunate example of how many politicians are only interested in decriminalization if it means more revenue. In 2006, The Lawrence City Commission narrowly voted to have first-time marijuana possession cases tried in municipal court instead of state court. The ordinance was aimed to protect University of Kansas students from loosing federal financial aid due to a state or federal marijuana possession charge. But city commissioners also narrowly voted to impose a $200 minimum fine and a mandatory $100 “evaluation” fee for marijuana possession, meaning Lawrence marijuana consumers would now face a much higher fine than county or state courts typically give.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
In 2006, the small town of Eureka Springs voted to make marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority and reduce the punishment for small amounts to a fine and/or community service. With a population of less than 3,000, Eureka Spring’s mild decriminalization law is only a small step for the state which boasts fairly tough state laws against marijuana consumers. Eureka Spring’s small success probably would not of happened without the support of nearby University of Arkansas NORML, who abandoned a similar effort in Fayetteville (where the University is located) because of weak support. They choose to instead focus on Eureka Springs, where they only needed to gather 144 signatures (15% of those voting in the last mayoral election) to send the measure to public vote.
Lead photo by: FoxTongue