City could face suit over pot proposal

November 07, 2004

Adrian Chen, Michigan Daily

Ann Arbor resident and medicinal marijuana user Mark Rowland wants the Ann Arbor Police Department to follow the will of the city’s voters.

AAPD Chief Dan Oates issued a statement Thursday saying his officers will continue to prosecute marijuana users and dealers even after the passage of Proposal C, which legalized medicinal marijuana in the city. Local voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot proposal in last Tuesday’s election.

“It’s a blatant disregard for law that has been voted in by the citizens of Ann Arbor,” said Rowland, who added that he had an aneurism in 1993 and now uses medical marijuana.

He said he has filed a personnel complaint against Oates and City Attorney Stephen Postema in response to the statement. Postema said he had not heard about the complaint, while the AAPD Professional Standards department could not comment on whether a complaint had been filed.

Rowland is a part of Fresh Start, a nonprofit group dedicated to establishing a cooperative garden in Ann Arbor for medicinal marijuana users to grow their own pot.

Rowland said Oates should pay attention to Proposal C because of its wide support by the people of Ann Arbor. The proposal passed by a margin of 74 percent to 25 percent last week.

“Once the voters make a decision, it’s not up to the chief to tell the Ann Arbor police not to enforce the law,” he said.

In addition to his complaint, Rowland said he plans to file a class-action lawsuit against the city and has consulted a lawyer. The plaintiffs in this suit will include medicinal marijuana users and those who voted for Proposal C, Rowland said.

Chuck Ream, who led the fight for the passage of Proposal C as chair of the Washtenaw Coalition for Compassionate Care, says the city is interpreting a 23-year-old Ypsilanti case too strictly in order to justify continuing prosecutions against marijuana users.

The case in question is Joslin v. 14th District Court, which states that any city law that prevents police from carrying out state law is void. Currently, state law prohibits the use, sale or distribution of marijuana for any purpose.

This clear precedent precludes any legal opposition to Oates’ position, City Attorney Stephen Postema said.

“I don’t foresee any challenges because this is the state of the law,” Postema said.

But Ream disagrees. “(The city’s) premise is unsound when they say there is no ‘wiggle room’ under the Joslin case,” Ream said. For support, Ream points to language in the Ypsilanti case saying police can use “choice and discretion” when deciding whether to prosecute.

In this case, the police should chose to support the proposal, Ream said. He admitted that the Ypsilanti case means that the city does not have to follow the proposal, but he sees its overwhelming passage as a “mandate” from the citizens of Ann Arbor.

“I have confidence in our mayor and our city that they will not ignore the vote of the people,” he said.

In the meantime, Ream has some suggestions on how the proposal could be effectively implemented, even in the face of the legal challenges brought by previous case law.

“It’s clear we cannot prevent any police officer from enforcing state law, but we could provide identification cards to people who are patients and recommend all employees of the city that they respect ID cards,” he said.

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