Council Differs in Opinions on Marijuana Charter Amendment

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014, 10:29 pm
Alice Dreger

City Council tonight discussed and approved introductory language for a ballot item that is set to ask voters whether the City’s charter should be amended to limit the City of East Lansing’s regulation of “the use, possession or transfer of less than 1 ounce of marijuana, on private property, or transportation of less than 1 ounce of marijuana, by a person who has attained the age of 21 years.”

The City is required to provide language that introduces the matter on the ballot, in plain and neutral language. The vote this evening was on that introductory ballot language. The vote was 4-1 in favor of the ballot introductory language proposed by city Attorney Tom Yeadon. Council member Ruth Beier was the lone vote against; she indicated she found the introductory language to go beyond the appropriate scope and suggested it risks being read as lacking in the required impartiality.

It appears from the discussion that the introductory language that passed is the following:

The proposed charter amendment below, which was initiated by petition, would preclude the City of East Lansing from having or enforcing certain local ordinances regulating marijuana. The charter amendment, if approved, would not change current federal and/or state prohibitions regarding the possession, use, transfer, or transportation of marijuana in East Lansing or on the campus of Michigan State University that may be enforced by the East Lansing Police Department or any other law enforcement agency.

In introducing his proposed language, City Attorney Tom Yeadon said that there has been “a lot of press and misinformation” about the ballot proposal. He indicated a need to use the introductory language of the ballot to counter what he called misinformation by proponents of the amendment.

Beier questioned Yeadon on his decision to include language that goes beyond talking about the ballot measure to talk about state and federal laws. Yeadon said he didn’t think it represented “a true bias of the vote.” He suggested the language would not bias voters, and said that without it, voters might think more was accomplished with the amendment than would be in legal practice. Yeadon said he thought that “when voters go to the polls they should know the particular parameters of the provision and its effect.”

Council member Kathy Boyle said she sympathized with moves to decriminalize marijuana but that her concern was the amendment could “give people, especially young people in our community, a false sense of security with regard to prosecution immunity.”

Beier responded that her concern was that the introductory language was talking about laws that are not part of the ballot question. She asked Yeadon if he knew of other times when ballot introductory language referred to laws beyond that being introduced in the ballot. He responded that normally charter amendments like this come from Council, not from petitions, so that normally Council ensures that “there is no misleading inferences in the ballot proposals themselves.”

To this, Beier responded, “That’s my problem. I don’t see anything misleading in the ballot proposal.” She continued, “This ballot proposal is very clear and what we’re explaining [in the introductory language] is something that is not in the ballot proposal.” She said that was why she would vote against Yeadon's proposed introductory language.

Mayor Nathan Triplett indicated that he would be in favor of decriminalization of marijuana “but the state legislature has made it impossible for us to do that.” He said he supported the introductory language as written because of MSU students potentially being misled into thinking they could not be arrested and prosecuted under state or federal laws.

Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris and Council member Susan Woods did not participate in the discussion.


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