A group looking to lessen the penalties of getting caught with marijuana turned in a petition in Jackson Tuesday in hopes of putting it before voters in November.
The initiative was spearheaded by Roger Maufort, president of the Jackson Co. Compassion Club, and Steven Sharpe, with the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Law, or NORML, who submitted more than 500 signatures to the Jackson city clerk.
The group only needed 354 valid signatures to get the issue on the ballot.
Maufort said decriminalizing the drug would free up police resources to focus on other crimes.
"The war on drugs has taken police away from going after real criminals and crime," he said. "We wish that they would start solving rapes and murders and break-ins."
Maufort also said he's hopeful the proposal will send a strong message to state representatives to decriminalize marijuana at the state level.
"We need to treat drug abuse as what it is... not a criminal issue," he said.
Sharpe said the proposal also offers economic benefits which is what the city of Jackson needs.
"It's going to create jobs not only in the medical marijuana field but in the industrial hemp field and Jackson would be a great hub," Sharpe said. "If we can help at all to create jobs and industry back in Michigan, I'm all for that."
The proposed ordinance would not make marijuana legal but it would lessen the punishment of possession of an ounce or less from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction.
But Jackson City Prosecutor Jerry Jarzynka said decriminalization could do the opposite of what proponents hope it will do.
"There is a link between drug use and crime and certainly that is a concern that if this sort of proposal did pass it would increase crime," he said.
A similar petition was also filed Tuesday in Ferndale. Currently, similar ordinances are already on the books in several Michigan cities including Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo.
A group in Lansing is also working on a similar petition and they need at least 4,200 valid signatures by the Aug. 6 deadline to place the issue on the ballot.
Lansing-based attorney Jeffrey Hanks who is affiliated with the group said they have a little more than 4,000 signatures but said he's confident they can file the petition early next week.