From the Canadian election to the vote in Ohio, we've been consumed of late by news about legalization at the state and federal levels. But the debate is also raging at local levels, and very much under the national radar in places like Michigan.
As activists were reeling from Ohio's failed Issue 3, two municipalities in Michigan were passing legalization measures.
Keego Harbor, a city of approximately 3,000 people that lies about 30 miles northwest of Detroit, voted to legalize personal use of cannabis by a vote of 55 to 45 percent. Once the new law takes effect, residents aged 21 or over will be able to carry or give away up to one ounce of cannabis, which can only be consumed on private property.
Meanwhile, in the suburban community of Portage, voters passed an amendment that prevents it from prohibiting residents aged 21 or older from carrying one ounce of cannabis. That means if Michigan legalizes cannabis in 2016, the city can't then pass a law that prohibits it.
Of course, marijuana is still prohibited under federal and state law, so these votes are mainly symbolic. Law enforcers in these districts ultimately have to decide whether to honor the municipal decision, or state and federal laws.
Police don't always honor voters' wishes
And there's no consistency from city to city - or even within a city. In 2012, Flint police stressed that cannabis arrests would continue despite the city's successful decriminalization vote. In 2014, the Saginaw county sheriff's office announced it would stop citing people for possession, but Saginaw police and prosecutors pledged to continue to enforce prohibition.
But passing these municipal measures can make a difference. In Grand Rapids, decriminalization led to a drop in arrests. When a Kent County prosecutor challenged Grand Rapids for contradicting the state's cannabis laws, the Michigan appeals court ruled in the city's favor.
Furthermore, each measure sends a signal that the state needs to reform Michigan's cannabis laws to reflect changing attitudes.
Currently, the Republican-controlled state legislature is considering Democrat Jeff Irwin's motion to legalize cannabis. At the same time, two activist groups are gathering signatures to make legalization a 2016 ballot question for Michiganders.
20 Michigan communities have their own cannabis laws
Meanwhile, Keego Harbor, Portage, and Grand Rapids now join a growing list of 20 Michigan communities that have either legalized or partially reduced criminal charges for possession of cannabis.
This movement became popular in 2012, but it actually dates back to 1971, when Ann Arbor voted to reduce the penalties for possession.
Ann Arbor decriminalized possession in protest of the jailing of political activist John Sinclair, who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by the state of Michigan for possessing 2 joints in 1969.
The two-year-long battle to free Sinclair culminated with a rally in Ann Arbor in December 1971, where John Lennon sang a song to protest America's cannabis laws. Three days after the performance, Sinclair was released.
His legacy as a counterculture icon was secure. And decades later, that legacy includes the communities still liberalizing marijuana laws today.