Here in Michigan, marijuana use can bring unique benefits – light up a joint and suddenly Michigan’s lousy economy doesn’t seem so bad any more. Maybe legalization could attract those young, highly educated professionals Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s been lusting over. After all, with the right to buy and grow your own pot, every city’s a cool city.
Medical and Recreational Peace, an activist group rooted in Eaton Rapids, is fighting for our right to get high. This week, the organization got its legislative petition approved and is now collecting signatures to get the proposal on the 2008 state ballot. The proposal would make it legal for adults over 18 to use and grow marijuana on private property. The use of the drug in public would incur a $50 fine.
Activists tried to get similar proposals on the ballot in 2000, 2002 and 2006, but they fell short of obtaining enough signatures each time. For this proposal to make it to voters, the group must obtain 304,000 signatures in the next six months. Michigan voters may soon have the chance – and hopefully, the wisdom – to decriminalize the drug.
It’s been clear for some time the war on weed is failing miserably. More than 750,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana possession last year, double the number arrested 25 years ago – and that’s just the number that got caught. If marijuana were decriminalized, many cases that are currently clogging up the court system would be eliminated, and tax money wasted prosecuting marijuana users could be spent on worthier goals. And if marijuana were legalized nationally and then taxed, the revenue could exceed $6 billion per year according to estimates by Jeffrey Miron, a professor of economics at Harvard.
Despite massive efforts to intercept supplies and prosecute users, marijuana remains an easy drug to obtain. Earlier generations found that the prohibition of alcohol – a substance whose chronic use often results in death – was unsuccessful. Likewise, cancer-causing cigarettes and other tobacco products are legal. Yet marijuana, which is less harmful and certainly less addictive, remains banned.
Many have recognized the absurdity of criminalizing marijuana and have joined a growing movement to legalize it. Ann Arbor voters approved an ordinance that allows the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes by a three-to-one margin in 2004, and the city punishes marijuana possession with a meager $25 fine. Just last year, Denver voted to allow adults over 21 to own up to one ounce of marijuana. Earlier this month, a similar proposal reached the ballot in Nevada. The proposal failed, but still garnered 44 percent support, demonstrating the drug’s growing mainstream acceptance.
Even if you’re not high enough to believe marijuana is Michigan’s ticket to economic salvation, we can at least agree that using the drug is a personal choice. Adults exercise the freedom to use tobacco and alcohol. The same should be true for marijuana. The first step to restore rights taken away nearly 70 years ago is to get the legalization of marijuana on the state ballot. Students on campus can and should be important allies in helping their fellow residents reclaim their right to a joint – that is, if they’re not too high to pass out petitions.