Detroit voters to decide citizen powers over city spending, decriminalizing psychedelics

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — City voters on Tuesday will decide whether to decriminalize psychedelic plants and if Detroit's charter should be amended to allow for citizen-driven ballot initiatives that impact city spending. 

Voter-initiated Proposal E asks Detroiters if they believe the personal possession and therapeutic use of entheogenic plants like psilocybin mushrooms or peyote should be decriminalized to the fullest extent permitted under Michigan law. 

If passed, the measure would not legalize the use and possession of psychedelics but it would make it the city's lowest law enforcement priority.

A second measure, Proposal S, seeks to amend a section of Detroit's City Charter to allow voters to push ordinances that include appropriating money.

Proposal E, a voter-initiated city ordinance, asks Detroiters whether the personal possession and therapeutic use of entheogenic plants like psilocybin mushrooms or peyote should be decriminalized to the fullest extent permitted under Michigan law.

The initiatives are among three being decided by Detroit voters in the general election. City voters on Nov. 2 also will decide if a task force should be created to consider reparations for residents. 

Proposal E goes to Detroit voters after Democratic state Sens. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor and Adam Hollier of Detroit last month introduced a bill to decriminalize two popular psychedelic drugs in a bid to make them available for therapeutic use.

Under Senate Bill 631, possession and use of psilocybin, commonly known as magic mushrooms, and mescaline, found in cacti that is comparable to LSD, would be “exempt from criminal prosecution in certain circumstances.”

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a nonprofit dedicated to improving state government, does not endorse or oppose the city's proposals. But it has noted without regulated use of psychedelic substances, individuals could put themselves at practical and psychological risks.

Proposal E could increase usage and access to potential therapeutic uses for various ailments as well as a reduction in public resources devoted to the enforcement of criminal penalties, Eric Luper, president of the research council, told The Detroit News. 

People advocating to decriminalize psychedelyics, he said, "think that there are some redeeming qualities to help with some ailments, but that's typically done under supervision."

"Just decriminalizing it and telling people go ahead and use it might come with its own dangers," Lupher said. 

The group Detroit Decriminalize Nature helped shape the ballot initiative. Moudou Baqui, a member of the effort which has worked to educate voters, noted Wednesday there are similar Decriminalize Nature groups around the state including Mid-Michigan, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids.

Baqui said he was suffering from trauma related to poverty, stress, struggling with being overweight, insomnia and knew he wasn't living a healthy or happy lifestyle That led him to psychedelic plants, he said. 

"What it did was on top of giving me answers to deep spiritual questions, it helped with practical solutions for my lifestyle that solved those spiritual problems," said Baqui, 45. "It has absolutely enhanced every aspect of my life and I've been blessed to share this with other people.

Baqui said supporters of the measure hope decriminalization of the plants in the state’s largest city could create momentum for future statewide decriminalization efforts.

The Detroit ballot initiative coined Proposal S would amend a section of the city charter to allow Detroit voters to push ordinances that include appropriations for money. 

Those powers currently do not extend to the budget under the city charter. 

"You could do an ordinance by petition saying we want the city to do this and now. If Proposal S passes, you can now say they should spend money on whatever that purpose is," said Lupher, adding there would be issues raised in the charter that states the budgeting process and the appropriations process are inseparable.

"It raises a lot of questions on how an initiated ordinance for appropriations would fit into that process," Lupher said. "How does the mayor or city council fit in? Should there be a right to line-item veto? If it puts the city into a deficit? What is the recourse for our elected officials? All those types of things are left unaddressed."

Todd Perkins, an attorney who founded the People's Voice, a nonprofit advocating for the formation of a reparations task force and Proposal S, has called Proposal S a “gateway” to reparations that empowers voters.

"And for a lot of people, I think it scares them," Perkins said. "Particularly politicians who don't want to be told how to control the purse strings.”

Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett Jr. told The Detroit News Wednesday the mayor's office does not have a position on Proposals E or Proposal S. He noted the city council goes through a deliberative budget setting process to maintain fiscal responsibility.

"Budget by initiative is very complicated. Persons could have a really good idea and then leave it to the rest of us who don't share their enthusiasm to pay for the effectiveness of the campaign they ran," he said. "Should the drivers of the ballot proposition be the drivers of the overall financial health of the city of Detroit? I would answer no." 

It’s unclear whether Proposal S violates the state Constitution or state law, attorney Peter Ruddell, a partner at Honigman LLP, has told The News.

The final initiative on Tuesday's ballot is Proposal R, which asks whether Detroit should form a committee to consider reparations for residents, 77% of whom are Black.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_