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Friday, January 6, 2017

V.G.I.P. Update for January 2017 - by Ben Horner

MMM Report Man of the Year: Tim Beck     

      As Michiganders looks forward to finally legalizing marijuana in 2018 via a well-funded ballot initiative, very few citizens have contributed to cannabis law reform in the great lakes state like super activist Tim Beck. His achievements in reforming marijuana laws has led the way for both the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act and now a legitimate legalization possibility.

     Many people don’t really know Tim Beck and his history in our movement. He is sometimes misunderstood and demonized for his controversial outspoken efforts, but usually by people that only wish to capitalize themselves or take credit for the work that was mastermind by Beck. Mr. Beck has carefully directed the leaders of emerging medical marijuana industry in the effort to legislate new laws (HB 4209) to tax and regulate safe transfer centers, also known as provisioning centers, as well as grow facilities and processing centers. Using dispassionate pragmatism, wisdom gleaned from vast experience and rock solid determination he has changed society for the better with a singular issue, using direct democracy.

     Tim Beck grew up in southern conservative rule Michigan in a traditional Christian home. There he learned core values like hard work and down to earth American principles.  In 1974 Tim graduated from the University of Detroit, where he served as student body president, and received a BA in Political Science. Upon graduation, he was employed as a staff assistant to a member of the Michigan legislature.

     In 1975, he entered the insurance business, and after a variety of sales and management positions, he founded his own company, Michigan Benefit Providers. Inc. in 1988, specializing in the sales and service of corporate employee benefit programs. He was a candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives, and received the Republican Party nomination for Wayne County Sheriff in 2000.

     Tim O’Brien, Libertarian Party activist and friend of Tim Beck designed literature for the 
“Yes on Prop M” campaign to legalize medical marijuana in the City of Detroit featured an elderly, 
yet alert appearing, African-American female in a wheel chair. The caption read: “You 
would never take away her wheelchair … How about her medicine?”[Excerpted taken from 
TAKING THE INITIATIVE: A Reformer’s Guide to Direct Democracy by Tim 
Beck readable at]

His successes in his industry and his ability to communicate with people from any walk of life opened many doors. Realizing his political talents combined his understanding of policy opened the door to the social issue that has brought a legacy to activism in Michigan.

     In 2001, after losing his bid as Wayne County Sheriff and losing favor with the some of the Michigan Republicans, Beck decide to hatch a plan on the legalization issue. After studying the success stories in California’s medical marijuana petition drives, Tim filed the proper paperwork with the Wayne County Elections Commission, to form a legally registered ballot initiative committee, which he named The Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care (DCCC).

     Tim assembled a diverse group to assist in building a strategy to use the Michigan home rule act to petition the city of Detroit to allow for the use of medical marijuana. It took two petition drives, hundreds of thousands of man hours and tens of thousands of dollars spanning three years of trial and error but in 2004, the successful campaign to legalize medical use in the city of Detroit was approved by the voters, becoming the first city in the Midwest to have a pro-medical marijuana law. This effort gained national attention and grant money from the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

     In the years that followed, Tim helped train and counsel local activists in Traverse City, Ann Arbor, Flint and Ferndale to replicate the process used in Detroit. Local volunteers had to learn Tim Beck’s system for running these campaigns following several standards learned from the failures and successes in Detroit. Beck learned to follow and instruct his strict rules regarding perfect petition language drafting, timely petition turn-in and signature validation.  Using this principle, every city was a victory. Other activists attempted a statewide campaign which failed. Tim predicted that without significant funding, a statewide campaign would fail.

     During this time, Tim Beck became the spokesperson for cannabis law reform in Michigan.  He was elected Executive Director of Michigan NORML in 2005. Beck developed relationships with many activists and leaders around the country. National drug law reform organizations began to look at what Tim had been doing in Michigan, and the Marijuana Policy Project decided to come to Michigan to explore the possibility of doing a statewide ballot initiative.

     After much research and deliberations, MPP went forward with producing a petition to place medical marijuana on the ballot during the 2008 presidential election. Unfortunately, Tim was asked to step aside as the spokesperson in Michigan. Certain key individuals holding the purse strings didn’t appreciate some of Tim’s politics and refused to let Tim be involved in the campaign. Beck was stripped of his position with MI NORML via a hostile take over. In order to secure the funding from MPP, Tim was forced to sign a gag order barring him from participation on any level for one year.

     Although Tim set the board for the passing the Michigan medical Marihuana Act, he wasn’t aloud to receive any recognition at the time in a legally binding contract. The activists that ousted Tim from Michigan NORML, were paid to collect signatures and received local attention in the press along with the MPP. It was during this time that Tim became demonized by many of the cannabis community in Michigan. False rumors about him spread around the state, and with the gag order in place, Tim was left unable to advocate for anyone or anything on the subject, including himself.
     Shortly after the passing of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act of 2008, Tim Beck cofounded Coalition for a Safer Michigan and Cannabis Patients United (CPU). Beck and others together routed efforts to impede full and reasonable implementation of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Program. It was at this time that Tim began laying the groundwork for the Coalition for a Safer Detroit.

     Petitions to remove penalties for adult possession and use of marijuana under the Detroit City Code were circulated by Tim’s crew in 2010. The City of Detroit election officials denied the petition on grounds that the local law change would conflict with state law.  Beck didn’t give up. He challenged the decision in court and was rejected all the way up the Michigan Supreme Court. After two years of fighting legal challenges, Coalition for a Safer Michigan won it’s appeal and the Michigan Supreme Court Order the initiative to be placed on the 2012 ballot. Detroit passed the proposal and Flint and Grand Rapids did as well.

     During the years he worked on the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, Tim Beck advised several organizations which lobbied the state as advocates for medical marijuana. Using his experience and connections (many of which came from his affiliation with fellow members of the Michigan Republican Party) Beck lobbying parties avoided harmful legislation and advocated for new dispensary laws. Tim Beck admitted publicly those critics of the MMMA were correct, medical marijuana was a deliberate stepping stone towards legalization.

     Between the years of 2010 and 2015, Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Jackson, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Berkley, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Saginaw, Mt. Pleasant, Port Huron, and East Lansing joined Detroit passing similar measures to remove penalties under their municipal law. Tim Beck was a mentor to almost all of these petition drives, with the help of veterans of these local Michigan marijuana petitions.

     Many critics of these proposals were quick to point out that these local initiatives did not trump state law. In many cases, arrests for possession of marijuana decreased, but law enforcement and prosecutors continued to charge individuals under state law. Beck’s naysayers lacked the vision to realize that these local victories would prove Michigan ready for a well-funded statewide legalization petition. Tim Beck declined working with several statewide petitions drives that where not properly funded, all of which failed to garner the needed signatures to make the ballot.

     Currently, MMP is considering coming back to Michigan and repeating what they accomplished in 2007-2008 with the MMMA. Tim Beck is currently assisting in the effort to build the team for legalization in 2018 as an unofficial advisor. Regardless of whether Tim is given an official role in the 2018 campaign, his work has paved the way for the final battle in the war against cannabis in Michigan.

     Tim Beck’s work has not only lead to many campaign victories in marijuana Law reform. Dozens of activists have learned something not taught in school any more, civics. By learning this process of petitioning and grassroots lobbying, through Beck’s tutelage, the strategy and process for direct democracy using Home Rule laws was established in Michigan. This empowerment has crossed several generations of activists. It is for these reasons that Tim Beck is honored as Man of the Year for his lifetime achievements in political activism and Cannabis law reform.


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