Local residents recently collected 7,000
signatures to place an initiative legalizing medical marijuana on
the Ann Arbor ballot this November. This move represents a positive
exercise of direct democracy in the way it was intended and is
veritable progress towards the complete decriminalization of
marijuana.

Mira Levitan

Ballot initiatives, at the state level, are grossly undemocratic
— they are tools of the powerful elites who have the money
and resources to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures. It
takes large sums of money to hire petitoners across the state. This
local initiative, however, was conducted in a grassroots manner by
unpaid workers. Unlike statewide ballot initiatives, this
initiative does not pervert the democratic process and represents
fundamentally what direct democracy is supposed to be about. The
physical labor and work of concerned, unpaid citizens put an issue
on the ballot without the support of wealthy groups.

Medical marijuana is already legal in many states across the
nation. While federally banned, diverse states including
California, Maine and Alaska have legalized marijuana for medical
purposes. While official medical groups have rejected claims that
marijuana has legitimate medical applications, many individuals
have reported positive results. The choice to use marijuana for
medical purposes should not be left up to states and national
organizations, but rather left between individual doctors and
patients, allowing for maximum flexibility and individual choice in
heath care.

While this bill seeks to legalize medicinal marijuana, it might
be the start of a trend towards complete decriminalization.
Marijuana, unlike many harder drugs, poses a minimal health risk
because it is neither toxic nor highly addictive. Thus, the
decision to use marijuana should be left up to individuals; there
is no compelling state interest in banning it. Any police action
spent pursuing marijuana offenders is a waste of government
resources. While this step of decriminalization is probably not in
the near future, Ann Arbor will probably become a trendsetter
— the first city in the state to do so.

The city has already taken steps to minimize punishment for
marijuana usage. The Ann Arbor Police Department hands out a fine
significantly smaller than the state-imposed sanction which the
Department of Public Safety is forced to issue. The annual
celebration of marijuana — Hash Bash — is held in Ann
Arbor (off areas with DPS jurisdiction) with minimal police
interference.

This ballot initiative is a positive development, not only for
the democratic process but also individual freedom. The choice to
use marijuana for medicinal purposes should be left to individuals
and their health care professionals, not to a universal legal code.
Furthermore, while the immediate decriminalization of an
essentially harmless drug is a pipe dream, this initiative is a
step in the right direction. In November, citizens should turn out
to the polls to show support for a measure that will enhance
individualism and renew faith in the direct democratic process.

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