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Marijuana ballot initiative appeal filed

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published February 6, 2020

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — A local group recently filed an appeal pertaining to marijuana and the upcoming election.

Michigan Court of Appeals records indicate that an appeal was filed Jan. 27 by attorney Anthony Penna on behalf of Clinton Township First, about a March 10 pro-marijuana ballot initiative.

It comes on the heels of a Jan. 8 decision by Macomb County Circuit Court Judge James Biernat, who gave the green light for minimal ballot language authorizing and limiting the type and number of marijuana establishments in Clinton Township.

An emergency motion filed Jan. 9 by Penna was denied by Biernat. On Jan. 10, the Macomb County Election Commission — composed of Macomb County Clerk/Register of Deeds Fred Miller, County Treasurer Larry Rocca and County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham — unanimously approved the ballot language at the discretion of Macomb County’s corporation counsel.

Steve Linder, the campaign manager for the pro-advocacy group Clinton Township Yes, said the appeal was an act of voter suppression and election nullification.

He called it a “shocking and cynical move” that tries “to set the stage” of directly affecting results related to an upcoming election. He proceeded to call it “an abuse of the legal system and an affront to democracy.”

“This issue is on the ballot,” Linder said Feb. 3. “Ballots are out, ballots are out overseas (for active military members). This group of people (Clinton Township First) should not be allowed to suppress votes, or nullify elections. This should be decided at the ballot box, and we are not understanding why they continue denying residents the right to vote.”

On Feb. 3, Penna called the original lawsuit “meritorious,” mentioning how Biernat cut approximately 95% of the ballot language originally proposed by Clinton Township Yes.

As for Linder’s claims of denying residents the ability to vote, Penna said “no one is trying to stop anyone’s right to vote” and that voters will express themselves March 10.

“The appeal is to preserve our rights, because (Clinton Township Yes) is intentionally deceiving the voters — not once but over and over,” Penna said, alluding to the number of potential establishments, as well as how much or little money would be raised locally.

He also accused the pro group of being funded by “hundreds of thousands of dollars of dark money” in the form of “high-paid Lansing and out-of-state consultants.”

Township resident Peter Viviano, who originally brought the lawsuit forward against Clinton Township Yes and the township as a whole, said his attention is focused on the campaign to defeat the ballot initiative.

Like Penna, he has also called Clinton Township Yes a group of out-of-community “profiteers” who want to personally benefit from the passing of this initiative.

“They want to engineer the community to give them large economic benefit,” Viviano said Feb. 3. “Their gain is our loss. The school boards do not want it. Churches don’t want it. The majority of the trustees voted against it.

“Citizen opposition is growing. Maybe (Clinton Township Yes does) not want to disclose the origin of their financing because we will discover that most of it stems from outsiders.”

He added that the group’s goal is not to “control” anyone, in terms of their using marijuana medically or recreationally as dictated in the state referendum. Rather, he said, “there is a balance that has not been fleshed out.”

“Clinton Township First is fighting big cannabis that is using its money to ply influence with politicians and send out misleading mailers,” he said. “We do not want big industry/big cannabis to stymie our freedom to enjoy our properties, as we did prior to the last election.”

Linder said the appeal is just another effort to cloud the initiative, which garnered nearly 4,000 signatures in about 30 days’ time.