Pro Pot Petitioners Sue Oak Park Over Neglecting Ballot Proposal
(Crystal A. Proxmire, May 29, 2014)
Over 1,800 registered voters signed petitions to put marijuana decriminalization on the Aug. 5 ballot in Oak Park. The City Clerk validated the signatures but refuses to put the question on the ballot, according to a court case filed by the Safer Oak Park Coalition.
The Coalition is asking the Oakland County Circuit Court to intervene and order the proposal placed on the ballot. The deadline to finalize the ballot is June 6, and both parties are expected in court Friday to present their arguments.
The proposal, if adopted, would prohibit city ordinances from applying to the private use, possession or transfer, or to the transportation by an adult of less that one ounce of marijuana.
According to the claim, Oak Park City Clerk T. Edwin Norris notified the Coalition he had sent the petition to Attorney General Bill Schuette for approval and had not heard back yet.
The lawsuit describes the legal process for getting a referendum on the ballot, steps which do not include getting the State’s approval. However City Manager Erik Tungate has defended the Clerk’s decision, telling The Oakland Press “The city’s official position on the marijuana ballot initiative is that we are following election law procedure awaiting approval of ballot language from the State of Michigan.”
A similar petition drive, and election, was successful in Ferndale last year. The City of Hazel Park also has accepted petitions and placed the issue on the ballot there for Aug. 5. None of those cities sought approval from the State.
Tungate explained that the petition for the City of Oak Park called for a change to the City Charter rather than the adoption of an ordinance, and that this distinction is what prompted the Clerk to contact the State. “We are required by Michigan law to notify the state of petitions that seek to change the Charter,” he said. “In the past citizens have petitioned on several occasions to change the Class C liquor licenses in the City Charter and in each of those cases the language went to the State first for approval.” He said that to the best of his knowledge, the Attorney General’s Office has not yet made a determination if the language is approved or not.
“I do not know why they submitted their petition as a City Charter change and not an ordinance change. You’d have to ask them that,” he said.
On March 26 the City was given a copy of the petition as a courtesy. On March 27 the City Clerk advised the Coalition was in correct form for circulation. On April 22 the Coalition filed 1,600 signatures. On April 27 they filed an additional 200 signatures, and they were also notified that they had enough valid signatures to make the ballot. They were later informed that it would not be placed on the ballot because Schuette had not approved it.
“This is an action to protect Plaintiff Coalition for Safer Oak Park’s Constitutional and statutory rights to access the ballot for the purpose of placing a proposed City Charter amendment before the voters of Oak Park,” the lawsuit states.
“We are confident that the Judge will rule in our favor. We followed the State laws that apply to citizen initiated ballot proposals to the letter. It seems the City of Oak Park is trying to circumvent the voters,” said Safer Oak Park Coalition Treasurer Debra Young. Young questioned the motivations of City leaders, noting that Coalition Chair Andrew Cissell is also running for State Representative for the District representing Oak Park, but that City leaders have “been publicly hostile towards him.”
Cissell was found guilty of having given a false address in order to file the petitions for Proposal A in Ferndale last year, and he faces several felonies related to marijuana possession and sale after an arrest last year. He has campaigned with the slogan “Man of the People,” and says that he’s been targeted because of his political activities. Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard refuted this claim in November, stating that the Narcotics Enforcement Team investigation was “not political.”
The Coalition is being represented by Mark Brewer of Goodman Acker. Brewer is also the former Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party.
http://ferndale115.com/20100826clinic.html – Ferndale Clinic Still Open After Raid
http://www.ferndale115.com/20100629medicalm.html – Ferndale Places Moratorium on Medical Marijuana Based Businesses.