The City Council discussion Monday came as United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced plans to overhaul the nation's longstanding "war on drugs" and several speakers cited the shift in their arguments.
Ferndale resident Ryan Meray addressed the City Council in support of the proposed ordinance alteration that would allow adults age 21 or older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana on private property in Ferndale and argued that punishing low-level drug offenders as the current federal law requires has resulted in packed prisons.
"It's about time we recognize the war on drugs is something our society has become addicted to," Meray said of the policy launched in 1971 by President Richard Nixon to curb the illegal drug trade.
Holder, in a speech Monday to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, called for eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses among other significant changes to the war on drugs, the Associated Press reported.
Ferndale City Councilwoman Melanie Piana cited the expense of packed prisons resulting from current sentencing guidelines in voicing her support for decriminalizing marijuana, but said the ordinance alteration as written is unclear, would be trumped by state and federal laws, and needs "thoughtful debate."
"We're seeing a national conversation change about the federal drug policy," Piana said. "I think that's a really good conversation we need to be having."
The council opted not to adopt the ordinance alteration Monday; instead, it will go to a vote of the people Nov. 5.
Mayor Dave Coulter said 16 states already have decriminalized marijuana and he expects the trend to grow, but state and federal laws pre-empt local law, which makes the proposed ordinance alteration "a virtually unenforceable law."
Ferndale Police Chief Tim Collins has said he is not in favor of decriminalizing marijuana in the city and, if approved, the measure won't change how the Ferndale Police Department operates."I don't particularly like the message it sends to our police department," Coulter said. "It's terrible public policy to make the department pick between which laws to enforce. I think both sides have raised good issues – the people who want it decriminalized should be up in Lansing."
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