Group seeks cannabis decriminalization

Michael Williams

Legalize MQT is hosting a fundraiser at Ore Dock Brewing Company Wednesday, Feb. 19 to promote cannabis decriminalization in Marquette county.

Justin Stockwell medicates with cannabis. Stockwell is a patient, activist and is committed to cannabis reform.
Justin Stockwell medicates with cannabis. Stockwell is a patient, activist and is committed to cannabis reform.

Legalize MQT seeks to establish a $100 fine for people carrying less than 2.5 ounces of cannabis, as opposed to legal proceedings that cost $750 for possession. The committee is organized by attorney Brian Bloch, physician Curtis Marder, medical cannabis patient/activist Justin Stockwell and others motivated toward cannabis reform. “As a criminal defense attorney, I have today three open files of people who have these little, itsy-bitsy transgressions of the law that will leave a cinder-block tied around their neck,” Bloch said. “If you get busted for a little bit of pot, your lifetime opportunities are permanently harmed. If you get busted for molesting a little kid, you don’t have the same thing.”

Bloch said he has been lobbying for cannabis decriminalization for years, but 2013 provided legal precedent in other Michigan cities and states to suggest that reform is inevitable.“When Washington and Colorado went legal it was like hearing a dam crack,” Bloch said. “It’s no longer ‘Will the dam crack?’ it’s ‘When?’”

Recreational cannabis use has been a civil infraction in Ann Arbor since 1972, then culminating in a $5 fine (now a $25 fine for the first infraction). Ann Arbor is one of the first U.S. cities to relax cannabis laws.Lansing, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Ferndale, Flint and Ypsilanti have all relaxed cannabis laws in the last two years, the first Michigan cities to follow Ann Arbor’s four decade precedent. Though Legalize MQT dubs its end goal in its name, decriminalization comes first. For the organization, the prosecution of recreational cannabis users result in excessive punishment, including limiting employment, educational and public opportunities.

“The laws are disproportionate,” Marder said. “Why should we be criminalizing these kids for minor possession? It’s ridiculous. They can’t get a student loan, they can’t get into public housing, they can’t get particular licenses. They have to explain it the rest of their lives for a minor misdemeanor arrest for a substance that really isn’t that toxic. If you rape someone, you can still get a student loan, you can still get into public housing.”

Legalize MQT seeks to demystify the stigmas surrounding cannabis and drug policies broadly.“One of my favorite arguments to get into is with the guy who starts with ‘Marijuana is a gateway drug,’” Bloch said. “You know what, it is, because you get it from drug dealers under our current system.”

Bloch emphasizes legalization in Colorado and Washington have already aided the states financially. Colorado grossed $1.24 million in January tax revenue, its first month taxing cannabis. Since 1996, 23 other states have either legalized medical or decriminalized recreational cannabis use.

“If you’re a judge, a cop, a prosecutor, you work for the system and you think there’s an unfair law, it is not in your personal financial interest to say ‘Hey, we’re wrong,’” Bloch said. “That’s why grassroots political advocacy is the best tool of a free people.” Legalize MQT has bigger plans than fundraising. They plan political advocacy at the city level.

“Legalize MQT doesn’t seem to be getting the attention of the Marquette City Commission,” Bloch said. “So we’re gonna back a candidate for one of the three seats coming up, we’re going to back another candidate who is friendly towards our issue and we’re hoping for a third interested party who would like the support of an organization that can give them helping hands.”

Marder said youth are vital to Legalize MQT’s goals.“We need the students of NMU to register to vote so they can vote on our side of the referendum,” he said.Bloch cites financial interests as roadblocks toward legal reform.

“Politics is money,” Bloch said. “Forty years of drug policy in this country has become a multi-billion dollar industry. The financial incentive is just at complete odds with our aspirations of being a free society.”Legalize MQT does not publicly endorse cannabis use, merely reform of cannabis jurisdiction.

“Personally, I’m in it because I would rather not have clients who become part of the conveyer belt of justice for things that should be no more serious than a parking ticket,” Bloch said.