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Monday, March 7, 2016

Free The Weed 60 - by John Sinclair


     Highest greetings from New Orleans, where I was greeted for Mardi Gras with the splendid news that the New Orleans City Council is about to pass an ordinance virtually decriminalizing marijuana possession in the Crescent City, largely due to the work of Kevin Caldwell and the organization called Legalize New Orleans and to Council member Susan Guidry, who introduced the measure.


     “Under the proposed municipal law change,” nola.com reports, “a first-time offender could get off with a verbal warning. A second-time offender could get a written warning, then a $50 fine the third time” and a $100 fine any time after that. “Police will now be able to use their discretion,” the report continues, either issuing a summons under the municipal code or making a custodial arrest using state marijuana possession laws. Since Council member Guidry introduced the original ordinance in 2010 that redefined first offense as simple possession, “We have found that the police officers 70% of the time are writing out a summons rather than taking someone to jail,” Guidry said. “Most importantly,” nola.com adds, “research shows that the NOPD’s discretionary use of summonses has been applied evenly by race.”

     But according to New Orleans Municipal Court and NOPD records cited by nola.com, African-Americans still account for 75% of all misdemeanor marijuana arrests and 92% of all felony marijuana arrests (whether by summons or custodial arrest). “This is unacceptable and not in line with the demographics of our city or the reported demographics of marijuana users,” Council member Guidry said.

     Guidry says she hopes the ordinance will “free up police, save money and make application of marijuana laws more fair and just across ethnic and economic backgrounds.” She wants police on the street investigating murders, rapes and armed robberies, “rather than at the station spending countless hours booking individuals on victimless, non-violent crime. “These marijuana arrests clog our already overburdened court systems and public defender’s office. Also, when indigent defendants cannot afford the hefty state law fines for possession offenses, they end up clogging our jail for failure to pay. Those offenders then
struggle to get back on track once released. They can’t bond out and they wind up losing their job, then they get out and they are really in desperate circumstances, and really it makes the severity of the punishment much more than the severity of the crime,” Guidry said.


     That’s some of the most sensible municipal wisdom to be encountered today, and this grizzled veteran of the marijuana legalization wars would like to commend and thank Ms. Susan Guidry for leading the way to common sense in New Orleans.
 

     In Detroit, however, the City Council is galloping off in the opposite direction, even though the citizenry has voted to legalize marijuana for medical (2008) and recreational (2012) use and the cannabis community has opened up more than 200 public dispensaries to serve the needs of local smokers.
 

     This has happened in the most natural fashion and absent any supervision or regulatory system devised by the city government. Now they want to corral the dispensaries and impose stringent post-facto legal strictures that are based in the usual idiocy of War On Drugs policies. The Detroit City Council has adopted a report pretentiously titled “Medical Marihuana Caregiver Center Application Process Status Report For Detroit City Council” and identified 211 dispensary locations in the city.
 

     According to Rick Thompson of The Compassion Chronicles, the new medical marijuana rules will begin on March 1 and any dispensary now open in the city has only until March 31 to apply for a business license. Most of the applicants will also have to apply for a zoning variance, Thompson adds, ”as the city was extremely stingy on the number of locations properly zoned for the inappropriately-named caregiver centers.”
 

     There isn’t enough space in this column to go into every detail of the Detroit dispensary ordinance, but Richard Clement, Marijuana Policy Analyst for Council Member George Cushingberry, suggests that anyone interested in viewing the relevant documents visit www.detroitmi.gov/Government/City-Council/George-Cushingberry/Newsletters-and-Documents
 

     Let it suffice to say that the ordinance is full of tricks and traps that are designed to deprive as many people as possible of access to their medicine. First off, all operational dispensaries must apply for their licenses in the month of March—period. Up-front costs include a Site Plan Review for $160, an initial Conditional Hearing for $1,000, a Board of Zoning Appeals Hearing for $1,200, and, as Rick Thompson points out, the price of the business license itself is yet to be determined.Once the licensing fee is established, the businesses will have to purchase the initial license in the spring and will be forced to renew their license and pay the fee again in September.
 

     The whole thing is based in the kind of backwards, police-state ideology so assiduously developed in the service of the War On Drugs. For instance, anyone who cultivates marijuana in a residence will be required to register with the city of Detroit as a home-based business. The registration process involves inspection and approval by numerous city agencies.
 

     Further, dispensaries cannot be less than 1,000 feet from another such business, from a park recognized by the Recreation Department, from a religious institution that has received a tax exemption from the city, or from a business identified as a controlled use (topless clubs and liquor stores). The City has specified a few industrial districts where dispensaries may be less than 1,000 feet from each other to allow for clustering of similar businesses.
What happens if you don’t follow the rules? Rick Thompson asks. “Any premises, building or structure in which a medical marihuana caregiver center is regularly operated or maintained in violation of the standard included and incorporated in this Code shall constitute a public nuisance and shall be subject to a civil abatement proceeding initiated by the City of Detroit.”
 

     What’s even worse, Thompson reports in a follow-up piece, the Detroit Police Department raided more than a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries in February, despite assurances that businesses of that type will begin licensing procedures on March 1.
“The Detroit Police raids are a torturous interference with a business expectancy,” Royal Oak attorney Barton Morris told Thompson. “The recent Detroit Police raids are unlawful and unconstitutional. The city should be legally stopped from taking any action to an issue they created and allowed.”

     “The current policy to shut down, raid and deny safe access is a losing hand to play,” said Michael Komorn, an attorney from Southfield. “Medical cannabis is a public health issue, not a public safety issue.”
 

     “The City has not only allowed dispensaries to operate by providing them certificates of occupancy, they enacted an ordinance to license and zone them,” Barton Morris pointed out. “At the same time, they send the Detroit police to raid select dispensaries purporting to enforce state law. That is the ultimate hypocrisy.”
 

     “These raids are discriminatory in nature and further persecute caregivers and the patients who need safe access to their medicine,” said Bruce Leach of Kirsch Leach PLC of Birmingham. “So many people will be negatively impacted by these raids; many will be thrown into the criminal justice system.”
 

     It will be interesting to see what happens in March, and we’ll be following this procedure very carefully. Incidentally, this is my 60th column for MMM Report—one every month for the past five years. If all goes well, the column will continue here for at least another five. FREE THE WEED!

—New Orleans
February 20-21, 2016
© 2016 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.

 

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