The Nov. 6 vote on legalizing recreational marijuana is not looking quite as sure as it did a few months ago. During a Sept. 19 blitz of press conferences sponsored by law enforcement and the anti-marijuana group Healthy and Productive Michigan, the results of a MIRS poll showed more Michigan voters opposing legalization than supporting it — by a 47-41 margin.
The level of opposition runs counter to a number of polls taken this year, but not the trend. In February an EPIC-MRA poll showed 61 percent support for legalization. Then in May, a Victory Phones poll showed 48-42 percent lead. An early September Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll showed 56-38 percent in favor. Finally a mid-September JMC Analytics poll showed a slim 43-40 percent lead.
The polling has been all over the place, but the early September finding of 56 percent support dropping to 41 percent a couple of weeks later is puzzling and prompts questions about how the polls were taken. That puts some urgency into the campaign for Proposal 1.
"We, by no means, have any assumptions that this is in the bag," says Josh Hovey, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "That poll conducted by MIRS, that was an anomaly. That poll was a robocall, not a live person on the line asking questions. Those polls tend to skew older. All of the live surveys conducted over the past couple of years have been up around 60. We need to put that negative survey in perspective."
One perspective is that the polls have consistently shown higher support for marijuana legalization among younger people. And the strongest anti-marijuana sentiments are among those 65 and older. If a poll reaches an older group it's going to skew more negative toward marijuana.
HPM has been aggressively working whatever audience it can find to defeat the proposal. There have been a series of presentations in communities across the state. CRMLA has not been as visible lately, prompting calls from a number of pro-marijuana activists to counter the arguments.
A Facebook post from Komorn Law addresses the concern:
"#CallToAction It has come to my attention that some pot-friendly people don't know that there is a VOTE coming up to #legalize in #November. We need YOU to take the initiative and contact your local grow shop, hydro store, smoke supply stop, and #dispensary, and get them to plaster signs up and educate people that there is a vote coming up soon. There is also a deadline coming up in October to register to #Vote for the upcoming #Election. Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and MILegalize are snoozing. It is up to us."
There is certainly a bit of alarm in that post. But the response in support of Proposal 1 may be ramping up. Last week the CRMLA released a full complement of lawn signs, T-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, and other "Yes on 1" items available at cafepress.com/yeson1.
By the same token, it seems that the CRMLA could save whatever cash it has for a last-minute blitz. The Detroit Free Press Sunday editorial this week urged a yes vote on legal marijuana. There's a special edition of Time magazine on newsstands with the headline "Marijuana Goes Main Street."
In addition, there is a cadre of activists who have volunteered themselves to speak in their own communities. They show up at forums and add their voices to the commentary. Mike Whitty, a retired University of Detroit Mercy professor, has been making the rounds to speak in support of Proposal 1.
"I gave six talks this last week and I've got more coming next week, most have been panels," says Whitty. "There are a few of us out in the city who are doing this, in some cases without me proselytizing and volunteering. We would be left off some of the ballot forums if I didn't ask."
Whitty says that the biggest fear he hears from people is moms worried about a threat to young people, and a fear that something big is going to change if marijuana is legal. But he says this is a minority — most of his audiences support legalization.
Activities are picking up. Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist doing research on marijuana use for PTSD, will be in the area and appearing at various events including at the University of Michigan to speak on the science of cannabis. Rick Steves, the travel writer and PBS personality, will be speaking in Ann Arbor on Oct. 3. And Howard Wooldbridge, the horse-riding, former police officer, pro-marijuana activist will be riding around the state to bring some horse sense to the issue. There are a lot of people stepping up around the proposal.
"We all need to keep working hard," says Hovey. "Talk to friends and family and people in your community. The only thing [HPM has] is scare tactics and we have the facts and data on our side. Look at the states that have come before us, all of the facts are on our side. We need to encourage people to support ending prohibition."
According to a survey conducted by the University of Michigan, the majority of state municipalities are opting out of the marijuana business. Current state law and provisions of Proposal 1 both allow individual communities to make their own choice on whether to allow marijuana businesses within their borders. The results found 75 percent of local officials have decided to opt out of the program. Most of those communities — 46 percent — chose to opt out by taking no action at all on the issue.
South Africa legalizes personal use
Last week South Africa's top court declared the prohibition of marijuana "unconstitutional and therefore invalid." The government has two years to adopt the ruling into law. In the meantime it is still illegal to use it in public, as well as to sell it. It will be up to Parliament to set up the laws around cannabis commerce. Until then it will be up to police to decide how much cannabis can be used for personal use. Adults will be allowed to grow marijuana in their homes.
Along with Uruguay and Canada, South Africa becomes the third nation to legalize adult use of marijuana.
Manhattan drops prosecutions
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance last week dropped 3,042 open marijuana smoking and possession cases. Vance said "We made the decision in the interest of justice," during a press conference. "We have to actually look at what resources we have, what resources the court has."
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