City of Minneapolis is sued to allow medical marijuana vote

September 14, 2004

Rashard Zanders, Minnesota Spokesman-Record

The Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States, announced last week that it is suing the City of Minneapolis on behalf of Citizens Organized for Harm Reduction (COHR), to compel the City to allow a vote on a medical marijuana charter amendment. The nearly 700 additional signatures turned in by COHR on August 30 guaranteed that COHR organizers had obtained enough signatures to qualify the measure, but the Minneapolis City Council, by an eight to four vote, has refused to put the proposed charter amendment before voters. Council Member Dean Zimmerman, who supported the measure, responded to MSR’s invitation to comment on the vote:

“I think the reason the city council voted it down was that the subject was not a proper item for the charter. The view is that the charter should be about how the City is structured,” Zimmerman said.

Last month, Detroit, Michigan’s city council approved a proposal similar to the one COHR canvassed for last month. Ann Arbor also has the issue on the ballot this fall. Zimmerman noted, “Other places that had this measure, it passed everywhere else. It’s an issue elected officials don’t want to touch because it is so controversial.”

“It’s puzzling to us that they don’t want to let the people of the city speak on this issue,” said Bill Mirken, the director of communications of MPP.

The charter process was instituted as a way for citizens to go around elected officials unresponsive to issues they deem important. How the process emerges from this conflict remains to be seen.

Don Haumant is lead plaintiff in the action, a Minneapolis voter who was a legally registered medical marijuana patient during the time he lived in California, and who is being deprived of his right to vote on the amendment by the City’s action.

The suit, filed Friday, September 3, in the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, Hennepin County, argues that the proposed charter amendment “meets all of the statutory requirements set forth in Minnesota Statute 410.12,” and that therefore Minneapolis Director of Elections Susanne Griffin “is totally without legal authority to refuse to place the proposed charter amendment submitted by Petitioner and others on the November 2, 2004 general election ballot in the City of Minneapolis.”

“The City Council’s action was grossly undemocratic, disenfranchising the more than 12,000 Minneapolis voters who signed the petitions in good faith,” said Neal Levine, a former Minneapolis resident who now serves as director of state policies for MPP. “The reasons given for keeping the charter amendment off the ballot simply do not jibe with either the law or the plain language of the proposed amendment. We are happy to put our resources behind COHR and Mr. Haumant in order to make sure that the voters’ rights are respected.”

“Based on our review with our attorneys, the only way they can keep something off the ballot is if it’s manifestly unconstitutional, which it [the charter amendment] isn’t,” said Mirken.

Under the proposed charter amendment, Minneapolis would authorize medical marijuana distribution centers to serve patients using marijuana with their physicians’ recommendations “to the extent permitted by state and federal law.” Haumant, who suffers from pain and nausea related to liver disease, made use of a similar system while a resident of San Francisco, according to a statement from MPP.

“What the charter states doesn’t jibe with the city council’s reasons against it. This looks to be a pretty clear-cut case. We wouldn’t have sued if we didn’t think we could win. As we understood the situation, the only thing we could do to get this on the ballot is go to court,” said Mirken.

The hearing was scheduled for Monday, September 13, at 1:45 pm in the District Court of Hennepin County. MSR will keep readers informed of the outcome.

The Marijuana Policy Project works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment of non-violent offenders at the public’s expense, by using up prison space that should be used for violent offenders.

For more information on medical marijuana, visit www.MarijuanaPolicy.org.


Rashard Zanders welcomes reader responses to rzanders@spokesman-recorder.com.


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