Residents will vote on marijuana-decriminalizing proposal Nov. 5

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published August 21, 2013

FERNDALE — Ferndale Councilman Dan Martin was ready to approve the decriminalized marijuana ordinance presented to City Council during the Aug. 12 meeting. He spoke of standing up for what the residents wanted and motioned to pass the ordinance.

But he had no support.

With the council not taking action on the petition that was filed at the end of July by Ferndale resident Andrew Cissell, the proposed ordinance will now go to voters on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Cissell, 25, collected more than 600 signatures for the petition, which proposed that individuals 21 years of age or older using or possessing less than 1 ounce of marijuana on private property would not be subject to local laws. However, due to state and federal laws, individuals could still be subject to citation.

Martin made the case to his fellow council members about standing up for what the residents wanted, but the vote will ultimately end up in the residents’ hands.

“I was elected to represent the people and I tend to favor decriminalization, as it sends a message, with other cities, that we do need to look at our drug laws at the state and federal levels,” Martin said. “I don’t feel it’s a violation of my oath to uphold this. A number of residents of this city want us to look at this and I don’t think we are out of place to consider it.”

Detroit, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo are a few of the cities in Michigan that have already passed a similar ordinance. If the ordinance passes, Ferndale residents could still be subject to a civil infraction, but Cissell said after turning in the petition that law enforcement is less likely to seek out marijuana possession and use if there is less money coming in.

Police Chief Timothy Collins said not only would he still be required to uphold state and federal law, but the way the ordinance is written, allowing use, possession and transfer on private property could lead to several scenarios at places like bars and privately owned day care facilities.

“I think the intent was to be able to use marijuana in your own home or domicile, but it doesn’t prevent sales at bars or restaurants,” Collins said. “In the last three years and seven months, we have not arrested or cited anyone who was 21 or older with less than 1 ounce in their own home.

“If we pass this, we are opening up the possibility of some confusion because people will come here and transfer, use and possess marijuana on private property in the open. It doesn’t belong here in our community.”

Several members of the community were in attendance at the council meeting and voiced their opinions, alongside Cissell, that council should have passed the proposed ordinance.

Michael McShane, of Ferndale, said he used marijuana for medical purposes during his cancer diagnosis and he is for decriminalizing marijuana use in Ferndale.

“I believe Ferndale is a very progressive area and community — that’s why I’m here,” McShane said. “I believe marijuana to be very safe and there is compelling evidence to support that. In states that have done the same, there has been a 9 percent reduction in roadside fatalities because people aren’t drinking as much.

“I controlled cancer with marijuana, I avoided surgery and chemotherapy and I believe it saved my life.”

Ferndale School District Superintendent Gary Meier and Board of Education President Jim O’Donnell both addressed council before they deliberated, asking them to deny the ordinance. Both addressed the negative impact on children in the city and how it could lead to a bigger youth drug problem.

“We have established a 1,000-foot drug-free school zone and an important factor in reducing drug use in our youth is the community attitude toward alcohol and drugs,” O’Donnell said. “We don’t have a problem now, and we want to keep it that way. We have made a lot of good progress in Ferndale schools and we want to continue to work with the city on all fronts.”

Councilwoman Melanie Piana said the drug laws need to be looked at further at the state and federal level, but she did not feel the proposed ordinance in Ferndale was precise enough to be passed.

Councilman Scott Galloway agreed and said the way the ordinance was brought to council should have been different and it may have resulted in a different outcome.

“If this is the will of the people to do this, there should be a thoughtful approach to how it is implemented, but no one approached the elected officials advocating some sort of change to be looked at,” Galloway said. “This ordinance was intended to send a message and be a statement, but the way it was drafted, I think it could have some unintended consequences that could be negative on our community. I think there is a better way to look at this and protect the interest of the community.”

Sending a message is something not uncommon in Ferndale, Mayor Dave Coulter said, but he feels any efforts to decriminalize marijuana at the local level could be better spent at the state or federal level.

“We like to send messages here and we are not shy about sending messages; however, we don’t always send it by passing laws,” Coulter said. “I worry, because who are we sending this message to? I don’t like the message it sends to our Police Department, where it puts them in a position to decide what laws to enforce and which to turn a nose and not enforce. I don’t think it is appropriate for council to pass an ordinance that conflicts with state law.”