Greg Schmid, the Saginaw attorney behind the Personal Responsibility Amendment drive aimed at decriminalizing the use of marijuana in Michigan, hopes to gain enough signatures to put the amendment on the 2002 Michigan ballot after a similar drive failed last year.

Paul Wong
Advocates of legalizing marijuana plan to begin a petition drive beginning the weekend of Hash Bash next month.<br><br>FILE PHOTO

The six-month campaign to compile the 302,711 necessary signatures will begin here in Ann Arbor at the Michigan Theater on April 6 the eve of the 30th annual Hash Bash.

This is not the first time Ann Arbor has been at the center of controversy regarding the decriminalization of marijuana. Last August, the City Council nullified a petition to put a medicinal marijuana referendum before Ann Arbor voters.

Although last year”s drive failed, Keith Strout, the executive director and founder of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, believes that if Schmid and his petitioners can put the amendment on the ballot it has a good chance to pass.

“The real issue is whether you have the resources to get it on the ballot,” said Strout, who will be speaking at the April 6 National Symposium on Cannabis Prohibition Reform. “The only initiatives that make it are those with strong financial backing, the ability to hire companies to get signatures and buy media time. When we have gotten the amendments on the ballot we have been successful eight out of eight times since 1995.”

Schmid is hopeful this year”s effort will be more successful than last year.

“Last year, we got half of the signatures we needed in the six-month period that the law allows, but that was in the winter,” Schmid said. “Also, this year we have more experienced petitioners and over 3,000 volunteers a number that grows every minute of every day.”

The amendment, Schmid said, is not an endorsement of drug use but rather “a move to replace the government”s war on drugs with personal responsibility.”

“The government isn”t very good at the war on drugs they just aren”t producing results,” Schmid said.

Included in the amendment are provisions to make possession of three ounces of marijuana or three plants legal as long as the drug is kept away from the children, cars and the public.

“PRA doesn”t legalize the sale of marijuana and there are many restrictions with regard to having it in your home,” Schmid said. “The main goal is to end prohibition because it is the black market for marijuana that leads to crime, not the marijuana itself.”

PRA also relieves the financial burden of punishing marijuana smokers, Strout said. “According to a survey conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union, 58 percent of people say we shouldn”t send marijuana smokers to jail,” he said. “This amendment eliminates the waste of law enforcement resources that should be used for violent crimes.”

Petitioners will continue to collect signatures until Oct. 3. If the amendment makes it to the Michigan ballot, it will be the first time in state history that a marijuana referendum will go before voters.

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