There is a very old saying, “All politics is local.” Until gerrymandering, Citizens United, and a weary, disconnected apathy took over, it was still true of the electoral process, and it is easy to assume that everything is governed that way, conjuring up visions of old men smoking cigars and conspiring from the back rooms of the Capitol. It may surprise you to know that all politics really still is local, and as boring as that sounds, it is actually the key to cannabis revolution in Michigan.
There is no clearer evidence of the power of the local rule of law than in the extreme disparity in enforcement of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA) found not only among, but within counties in Michigan, even though they operate under the same prosecutor, judges and state law. Take, for example, Washtenaw and Livingston Counties. Shortly after the MMMA passed, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti city councils adopted ordinances zoning medical cannabis dispensaries, and since then, dispensaries have been openly operating, generally without the interference of law enforcement. The opposite is true of Livingston County, where only one dispensary (that I am aware of) was openly operating in 2010 before LAWNET, the Livingston and Washtenaw Narcotics Enforcement Team, was sent to raid it (twice) and the owners were subsequently prosecuted. So why, when LAWNET has both counties under its jurisdiction, when we are all bound by the same exact state law, is there such inequity? Why is state law enforced in Ferndale, but not Detroit, and in Warren, but not Lansing? In Grand Blanc, but not Flint? Quite simply, a few cities have made the decision to ignore state law, much to the relief and prosperity of those it benefits, and much to the confusion and frustration of those it does not.
The strength of the “home rule city” is awesome when it works in your favor, but much, much more often than not, local governments are using restrictive zoning and regulations to obstruct state-protected patient and caregiver conduct instead of protect it, weirdly citing state law prohibitions as justification, all evidence to the contrary.
“It may surprise you to know that all politics really still is local, and as boring as that sounds, it is actually the key to cannabis revolution in Michigan.”
The respect for local rule even protects a city’s ability to make really bone-headed decisions, like Warren requiring a 500-foot buffer between an industrial building used for cannabis growing and the nearest residential zone, where everybody can grow cannabis. Or Detroit requiring a dispensary to be 1,000 feet from the nearest liquor store. Or any city prohibiting a patient growing cannabis in his own home when he lives in a Drug Free School Zone which, by the way, is not even a thing. Drug Free Schools Zones are non-codified guidelines, not law.
Local rules rule, and when you think about how easy it is to get involved in local politics, to attend a council meeting, introduce an ordinance, or even run for elected office, you realize that, with a little effort, politics can actually work in your favor.