In November 2018, the office of Michigan Attorney General (AG) is up for renewal for the first time in eight years. According to the Michigan Constitution, the AG is the chief law enforcement officer for the State of Michigan. Its current occupant, cannabis hater Bill Schuette is leaving the office to run for Governor. This fact is a rare opportunity for cannabis reformers to help change the political landscape at the very top.
What is especially good, is for the first time in Michigan political history, a serious, major party player with a chance to win, has openly endorsed the legalization of marijuana. No weasel words or hemming and hawing.
The candidacy of Democrat Dana Nessel has united the leadership of the cannabis reform community.
An attorney in private practice since 2005, Ms Nessel is a former Wayne County Prosecutor, who has the support of her old boss, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. She is bright, energetic, articulate and not afraid to take on issues most politicians are afraid to touch.
Her major accomplishment is playing a key role in legalizing gay marriage across the entire USA. In 2012 she took on the legal case of DeBoer v Snyder which went all the way to the US Supreme Court. The court ruled that her clients April DeBoer and Jane Rowse have the right to legally marry.
Ms Nessel lives in Plymouth, with her wife Alanna Maguire. The couple have twin sons Alex and Zach, who are in their freshman year at the local high school. In addition to legalizing marijuana, she is a strong advocate of environmental protection, civil liberties, consumer protection and defending the rights of labor unions.
The road to victory will not be an easy one. There will be no statewide primary election. The party nominee for AG will be decided by delegates to the statewide Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Convention at Cobo Hall in Detroit on April 15
She is now competing with Patrick Miles Jr., former US Attorney for Michigan's Western District, who was appointed to the job by President Obama.
Miles is infamous in the cannabis reform community for sending the "Lansing Seven" to Federal prison for the illegal production of medical marijuana in 2012. As an African American member of a fundamentalist Christian church, it is impossible to get a straight answer out of the man, as to what he really believes about the legal status of marijuana.
It also seems for now, Mr. Miles has the support of the traditional Democratic establishment. Organized labors ability to hand pick candidates at Democratic Party Conventions is the stuff of legend.
She says her fundraising effort is not so much to impress MDP big shots, but to enable outsiders who believe in her message to vote at the convention.
'I'm not taking money from corporate PAC's. I did not spend my career with silk stocking law firms. My focus has been to represent the disenfranchised" she explained.
"We will have buses to take people to Detroit from out state areas, and a place for them to stay when they arrive" she explained. "If the grass roots does not participate, the big guy's will make all of the decisions. That is not what we want."
Can Ms Nessel make it all the way, if she does not get the support of organized labor?
Some long time MDP leaders and activists are skeptical such a thing could happen.
Former State Representative LaMar Lemmons, who is a member of the Detroit School Board and Chairman of the "East Side Slate" political organization, had some sobering words.
Based upon many love fests, and head butting with organized labor leaders over his long political career; Mr. Lemmons said such a task would be difficult.
"Organized labor, especially the UAW, is like the Chamber of Commerce and the DeVos and Romney families, which can get anything they want in the Republican Party. They have unlimited money and manpower, especially at a party conventions. They can change the rules... if they do not like the result."
"Upsets have happened a few times in the past, in both major parities, but that's not usually the way it goes" Mr. Lemmons concluded.
What is the reality on the ground as of January 25, the print deadline for this column?
Dana Nessel can win this. Patrick Miles, Jr does not have her charisma, work ethic and ability to excite grass roots members of the Party, especially the ever growing "progressive" wing. It is that simple, and organized labor will eventually understand this reality at the end of the day.
What do we need to do as a community?
We need every able bodied cannabis policy reformer in Michigan to join the Michigan Democratic Party and show up at the convention on April 15 to vote for Dana Nessel. It's that easy. Just go to Dana Nessel's website: "Dana Nessel for Attorney General." Her talented team has made it very easy to join the MDP. You can also go to the Michigan Democratic
Party website and get the same result. Party rules state you must join by March 16 in order to vote at the convention. Do not procrastinate. Do it now. It takes at least a month to get your ID card in hand from the time you apply. There is no cost to become a member unless you want to make a voluntary donation.
I have identified with the Republican Party for economic policy reasons for many years.
No matter. If you lean Democrat, Republican, Independent or third party, for just one time, use this opportunity to cast a meaningful vote for cannabis policy reform and civil liberties in Michigan.
I got my Michigan Democratic Party I.D card in the mail last week, and I will be voting for Dana Nessel on April 15 in Detroit.