After a laborious petition drive and a
bumpy legal struggle, Proposal C, which protects medicinal
marijuana users from prosecution and arrest by local authorities,
passed with overwhelming support on Tuesday. Proponents of the
ordinance hailed it as a critical step toward preserving civil
liberties and reducing excessive prosecutions and arrests of
medical drug users. Unfortunately, one day after the ballot
initiative passed, Ann Arbor Police Chief Dan Oates decided to
ignore the direct democratic mandate of Ann Arbor residents,
ordering officers to continue enforcing possession, sale and use
violations for medicinal marijuana as they had before
Tuesday’s vote. Aside from the more intuitive reasons for
police officers not to be arresting ailing residents for attempting
to temporarily alleviate their pain or discomfort, Oates’s
decision to ignore Proposal C carries some much graver
implications.

Beth Dykstra

Under the legal counsel of City Attorney Stephen Postema, the
Ann Arbor Police Department has argued that the city’s
prosecution attempts can be referred to state law, even if the
offense is otherwise decriminalized under municipal statute.
Accordingly, Postema argues, the city has every right to continue
to use its law enforcement resources to halt the medicinal use of
marijuana.

In its departure, Proposal C continues Ann Arbor’s
time-honored support and recognition of the medicinal benefits of
marijuana and represents a critical step toward safeguarding
residents’ civil liberties from unnecessary government
criminalization. Supporters hoped that the ordinance would be met
with further legalization initiatives to ensure that citizens using
cannabis for medical reasons will be able to obtain safe products
from a noncriminal market.

By turning a cold shoulder to Proposal C’s directives,
city officials have not only prolonged the anxiety of hundreds of
Ann Arbor’s ailing residents, but subverted the democratic
process — ignoring the popular opinion of its residents and
gratuitously deferring to state legal precedent. The collective
voice of Ann Arbor residents could not have been any clearer. On
Tuesday, by a 74 percent margin, Ann Arbor voters explicitly
requested that their taxpayer dollars not be used by the city to
prosecute or arrest medicinal marijuana users. The city already
decriminalized marijuana for nonmedicinal reasons, and usually,
when they come across it, Ann Arbor police only charge a small fine
for possession. In fact, with the police department’s
response to Proposal C, medicinal marijuana offenses within Ann
Arbor will now hold harsher penalties and steeper fines than they
would have under municipal statutes before the vote.

Although the state’s more stringent laws will always
supercede municipal code, a city’s residents should be able
to decide how the public authorities most immediate to them
allocate resources. If the majority of Ann Arbor’s citizens
collectively conclude that individual possession and use of
marijuana for medical reasons is not a threat to public order,
local authorities should respect the will of the people.

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