Crackdown on pot

Any flashes of paranoia floating through the annual Hash Bash earlier this month might rightly have been described as drug influenced – but they were not delusions.

Someone really does want to bring more heat down on Ann Arbor’s pot smokers. Her name is Bev Hammerstrom, a Republican state senator from Temperance.

Abandoning the usual GOP support of local regulation as opposed to dictates from above, Hammerstrom’s SB380 is an attempt to have Ann Arbor’s relatively lenient marijuana laws snuffed out by the state. East Lansing, another Michigan college town that also has reduced fines for possession of small amounts of marijuana, would be affected as well.

Hammerstrom found no lack of legislators willing to fire another round in support of the nation’s long-running war on drugs. The bill sailed through the Senate, passing 36-1 in late March.

It’s that message thing.

"When a local unit of government only penalizes a person for possession of marijuana with a $25 fine, we send a mixed message to young people," said Hammerstrom.

The bill now being considered by the state House would strike down the maximum $25 fine for misdemeanor possession on the books in Ann Arbor and East Lansing. Those local laws would be replaced by state statutes that allow judges to impose penalties of up to 90 days in jail and a $100 fine.

Sen. Alma Wheeler-Smith (D-Salem), who provided the lone vote in opposition to SB380, described the bill as a potential court clogger.

"This is going to tie up the court docket for over a year, if judges have to hear 500 individual trials with court appointed counsel," said Wheeler-Smith.

She said that Ann Arbor voters have had the opportunity to change the penalties and haven’t done so.

Wheeler-Smith said students are going to experiment with marijuana, "but to throw the book at them – no. We don’t need people from the Hash Bash spending 90 days in jail."

Mike Rogers, Senate majority floor leader and co-sponsor of SB380, is concerned about perceptions.

"We want to make it clear that the laws we pass in the Legislature are intended for everyone in Michigan, not just some," said Rogers. "We are waging a war on drugs in Michigan and that’s hard enough without having to fight communities that don’t think this battle is worth fighting."

Ann Arbor resident Marty Kleinow, a member of that city’s Coalition for Community and Consciousness, used the Hash Bash as a forum to warn about SB380.

"I think it’s ironic that it’s the conservatives who always say ‘hands off’ to big government, but are now taking it out of the hands of the community," said Kleinow.

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