KALAMAZOO — For the second time in as many years, a marijuana reform group is pushing to liberalize pot laws in the city of Kalamazoo.
The 20-member Kalamazoo Coalition for Pragmatic Cannabis Laws is seeking to have the city charter amended to make the possession of 1 ounce or less of usable marijuana by those 21 and older “the lowest priority” for local law enforcement.
“We’re still in the embryonic stages of this,” said John Targowski, an attorney advising the group. “But this is not about trying to legalize marijuana in Kalamazoo.”
Petition language has been drafted by the coalition, which will be collecting signatures beginning in March to get the issue passed by the Kalamazoo City Commission or, if that fails, by city voters. Organizers will have to submit a total of at least 1,274 signatures of registered city voters to the Kalamazoo city clerk by Aug. 10 to get the issue on the Nov. 2 ballot.
If the signatures are submitted by the August deadline, the issue would go to the City Commission, which would have 14 days either to adopt the ordinance or put the question to voters.
“We believe this reflects the sentiments of the community,” Targowski said of the coalition’s push.
Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Capt. Joseph Taylor disagrees.
“I am definitely not in support of this concept,” said Taylor, commander of the Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team, a multi-jurisdictional drug investigation and enforcement unit. “Creating a scale for what should be investigated — I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
Taylor said that although his unit needs to prioritize what to investigate given the large amount of tips it receives, marijuana is still “a significant issue.”
Marijuana use and possession is illegal according to state and federal law.
“Like cocaine and heroin, there is violence associated with the supply and demand of marijuana,” he said. “We’re not necessarily targeting small-scale possession. We look to go after mid- and upper-level dealers to eliminate the source.”
If the city charter is amended, Kalamazoo would become the only city in Michigan to have such a law. Ann Arbor has an ordinance that makes it a civil infraction to use or possess small amounts of marijuana.
Supporters say the ordinance would save taxpayer money by significantly limiting police investigations of small-scale marijuana possession and use and would also allow for the responsible recreational use of the drug in one’s own home without the fear of police intrusion.
Martin Chilcutt, a member of the coalition, doubts the commission will move on the issue. But he is confident there is enough support in the city to pass the measure.
“Chances are really good this will pass,” he said.
Chilcutt pointed to the level of support seen in the city for Proposal 1, the statewide medical marijuana initiative that was approved by voters in November 2008. It passed in the city of Kalamazoo with 68 percent of the vote.
Chilcutt said that a vast majority of the arrests in the city related to marijuana are for “very small amounts, like a joint” and cost taxpayers thousands of dollars each, from arrest to booking to court costs.
Statistics for 2008 show that 1,593 controlled substance arrests were made in Kalamazoo. Of that number, 933 were for marijuana offenses of which 173 for felonies and 820 for misdemeanors.
“It’s hugely expensive,” Chilcutt said. “It’s a tremendous waste of money.
“If there’s some gang moving barrels of pot, then they should be investigated. We’re not trying to stop the city from doing that.”
Early last year, MINORML, the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, began to organize a petition drive to amend the city charter with the same language the coalition is pushing. That drive fizzled.
“We went too fast,” said Chilcutt, who was a part of the 2009 efforts, adding the movement this time around is more organized because the group is local. “We didn’t take the time to do it right and make sure we had all our ducks in a row rather than just try to shove it. We made the right decision to wait.”
New medical pot proposal
Under a new Republican proposal discussed this week in the state Senate, the state would license up to 10 marijuana-growing facilities rather than letting thousands of authorized patients or caregivers grow their own. Marijuana would then be distributed through pharmacists after patients get a prescription from a doctor.
Critics say it is an unworkable proposal that would make getting marijuana more difficult for patients who use it to relieve pain and other symptoms. They say that since federal law doesn’t authorize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, doctors wouldn’t write the prescriptions and pharmacies wouldn’t fill them.
Under the medical marijuana law, registered patients are allowed to grow up to 12 pot plants and possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable pot. The law is silent, however, on where the marijuana would initially come from.
People who want to use marijuana for medical reasons must get a doctor to certify that they would benefit from it. More than 7,000 patients and 3,000 caregivers already are registered under the state program.
By Chris Killian