Leonard prevails in pot lingo case

By Don Rush

The last ditch efforts of the shadowy “Ballot Question Committee” Oakland Cares Coalition to force the Village of Leonard and the Oakland County Clerk’s office to change ballot language to something favoring the coalition’s liking has gone up in smoke. On Sept. 7, while granting a motion to expedite, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed a Sept. 2 decision by Oakland County Circuit Court which allowed the village to keep its Nov. 2 ballot language regarding recreational marijuana establishments in village limits.

Counsel for the Oakland Cares Coalition, attorney Anderson Grandstaff, filed for the appeal after Circuit Court Judge Yasmine Poles sided with the village and county clerk’s counsel in changing the ballot language.

Michigan Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Mark Cavanagh and judges Kathleen Jansen and Sima Patel stated in their opinion, “Plaintiff (Oakland Cares) did not have a clear legal right to have its preferred summary of its initiative appear on the ballot and defendants (Leonard Clerk Loree Zelenock, Village Council and Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown) did not have a clear legal duty to substitute plaintiff’s untimely-submitted ballot language in place of the language approved by the Village Council and certified to the county clerk. Furthermore, drafting and adopting appropriate ballot language involves exercise of discretion and judgment and so cannot be considered a ministerial act which may be compelled by a writ of mandamus.”

In layman’s words, the opinion meant Oakland Cares (the plaintiff) wanted the circuit court and the court of appeals to rule that Oakland Cares’ language should be used on the ballot instead of the language chosen by the Village using a writ of mandamus as the way to accomplish that. The court of appeals explained the test for getting an order of mandamus and concluded that Oakland Cares wasn’t entitled to it.

According to the county clerk’s office the deadline to change ballot language for the Nov. 8 Primary Election was Friday, Sept. 9, a mere two days after the court of appeals considered Oakland Cares Coalition’s motion.

Residents of Leonard will vote on the following ballot language:

This Petition Would Require the Village of Leonard Initiation of an Ordinance to Allow an Adult Use Recreational Marihuana Establishment. The Village of Leonard, as required by the authority of Section 6, Subsection 1 of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation Marihuana Act, 2018 Initiated Law 1 MCL 333.27951 Forward the proposition to allow and regulate within the Village limits the business operations of persons/businesses licensed by the State to operate Marihuana Establishment(s). This proposition would: 1) Allow State licensed Marihuana Establishments to operate within the Village in any zoning district including residential zoning; 2) Provide for an Ordinance for regulation of Recreational Marihuana for the operation of an establishment within the Village limits for growers, processors, retailers, transporters and micro-businesses. Should this proposition be adopted?”

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The Village of Leonard has a population around 380, found itself involved in what looks like a state-wide movement. On Aug. 24., legal counsel for the village, Oakland County and the Oakland Cares Coalition wnt before Circuit Court Judge Poles to force the village and county to change the village’s Nov. 8 ballot language because, as their attorney Grandstaff said, the language was “prejudicial.” They sought to compel the Village Clerk and Village Council to draft and certify revised ballot question language regarding a proposed ordinance addressing recreational marijuana establishments in the Village.

Last week The Leader reported not much is known about Oakland Cares Coalition other than it was established on June 6, 2021 and is based in Livonia. According to Oakland County’s website on Campaign Finance the only person listed for this group is Treasurer Johnathen Tebbutt, of Oak Park. In September and August of 2021, they took the clerks of Clarkston, Keego Harbor and Royal Oak Township to court for similar reasons.

Tebbutt’s name comes up in an article written by Sarah Lehr of WKAR Public Media in November of 2021. That story was headlined, “Group is backing a string of marijuana proposals in Michigan, but its donors are a mystery.”

Wrote Lehr, “Eaton Cares Coalition. Shiawassee Cares Coalition. Southeast Michigan Patients Advocates Coalition. The names vary, but these political organizations have some things in common. They all list the same treasurer, and they’re all behind ballot measures this November that seek to allow more cannabis businesses in Michigan. It’s not clear, however, who’s funding this network of pro-cannabis proposals, which are on ballots Tuesday in small Michigan towns including Potterville, the city of Perry and Rockwood . . . In campaign finance documents, the coalition lists Johnathen Tebbutt of Oak Park as treasurer.”

The Leader put in a call to Tebbutt on Aug. 26 and is still waiting for a response.

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