ONAWAY - A petition drive to ask Onaway voters to change city ordinances to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for adults is under way.
The Committee to Reform Onaway is seeking signatures to put a question on the November ballot. It would ask voters to amend city ordinances to state "nothing in the Code of Ordinances shall apply" to the use, possesion or transfer of less than one ounce of marijuana on private property, or transportation of the same amount, by anyone 21 or older. In a release, committee Treasurer Ron Langworthy said the drive is about rolling back intrusive drug laws that can ruin a person's future.
"A misdemeanor conviction for marijuana can devastate the future of a young adult, and the young people of Onaway deserve a helping hand up, not a scarlet letter that brands them for the rest of their lives," he said in the release.
Onaway is one of 11 cities where a similar ballot drive is under way, according to a release from Safer Michigan Coalition. There's also one in the works for Benzie County. The drive comes after voters recently passed similar measures in Lansing, Detroit, Flint and other Michigan cities. In the release, Safer Michigan Coalition co-founder Tim Beck said he hopes Michigan will some day regulate marijuana like alcohol and tobacco.
Brad Forrester, designated spokesman for the Committee to Reform Onaway, said the local effort is getting legal help from the statewide organization, along with petition language. Otherwise, Onaway's petition drive is a local effort. Langworthy and other Onaway residents will be collecting the needed signatures, Forrester said, and he's planning a town hall meeting, tentatively set for May 24. He'll invite local elected officials and city residents for a public discussion of the petition drive and the issue itself.
Forrester said he supports the drive because he believes it's wrong to arrest someone for possessing or using a substance that's less harmful than hard narcotics or alcohol.
"If we are fortunate enough to pass this initiative in Onaway, that isn't going to end all the problems regarding the war on cannabis, but it's a step towards reprioritizing local resources into real crime," he said.
There's a catch: even if the initiative passes, Onaway has no local police force. Instead, it's patrolled by Presque Isle County sheriff's deputies, who enforce state law, Forrester said.
Presque Isle County Prosecutor Rick Steiger said state law would trump a local ordinance, so those complying with the potential change could still be arrested. He used the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act as an analogy. State residents who comply with it are still violating federal law, although the federal government has said it won't prosecute medical marijuana users who aren't breaking state laws.
"It's still too premature to say whether or not we would honor the (Onaway) ordinance," Steiger said. "I would have to look into it further, if it passes, of course."
Forrester said he believes Onaway residents want their police department back, and the law could potentially have an effect if the city reinstates the department. Either way, he wants Onaway residents to make their opinions heard.
"We'd like to see 100 percent turnout, and everybody that votes either cast a 'yea' or 'nay' on that, because people understand that arresting people for marijuana is a waste of resources," he said.