pot jars

Residents in Clinton Township are scheduled to vote March 10 on whether to allow marijuana establishments in Michigan's most populated township.

AP FILE PHOTO/ CARLOS OSORIO

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A marijuana advocacy group working to win voter approval for recreational pot in Clinton Township has filed a complaint with the Michigan Secretary of State alleging violations of campaign finance disclosure laws by a group opposing the issue.

Clinton Township Yes, a group of cannabis companies hoping to set up dispensaries in the township, accuses members of the anti-marijuana group known as Clinton Township First of failing to include legal disclaimers in flyers, emails and signs soliciting contributions or urging residents to vote against the measure.

"No matter how righteous this group thinks they are, they still have to comply with campaign finance and election laws," Steve Linder, campaign manager for Clinton Township Yes, said in a statement. "Maybe instead of their lawyers trying to silence the voters, they can brush up on Campaign Finance compliance."

In response, Anthony Penna, a Sterling Heights-based attorney representing the anti-marijuana advocates, said Linder is a Lansing-based political operative who is "playing games."

"Steve Linder and his big money marijuana clients are the ones who are trying to silence people -- but the people of this community won't be silenced and they won't be intimidated," Penna said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State said Thursday the office has not yet received the complaint. Michael Doyle said once the complaint is filed, the department has five business days to determine whether the issue warrants investigation.

According to Michigan Campaign Finance Act, a "billboard, placard, poster, pamphlet, or otherwise printed matter" relating to a ballot question must identify the name and address of who paid for it. Clinton Township First is registered ballot question committee.

The complaint states the pro-pot group alleges Clinton Township First (CTF) members committed four campaign finance violations including:

• On Jan. 14, CTF member Michael Agrusso sent an email to "residents, business owners and families of Clinton Township" asking for financial contributions to the group and advocating CTF's position against the proposal. However, there was no disclaimer identifying who paid for the political message.

• A flyer prepared by and distributed by CTF stating a committee of residents have started a grassroots effort to defeat the proposal. No disclaimer stating who paid for it was included.

• The flyer refers readers to CTF's website, which contains information and arguments against the proposal and marijuana businesses in general.  It urges readers to "Say No to Large-Scale Marijuana" and seeks reader contact information. The website did not include a disclaimer identifying who paid for the site.

In addition, CTF's annual report contains no mention of an expenditure or in-kind contribution for the website, despite being published during a campaign finance reporting period.

• Yard signs CTF "apparently" printed and placed by CTF urging people to vote against the proposal carries the statement "Big Marijuana Big Lies," without a disclaimer.

Each violation is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and 93 days in jail. 

Voters in Michigan approved legalizing marijuana through a ballot measure in 2018 by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin.

But faced with criticism from educators, spiritual leaders and others, the Clinton Township Board of Trustees have voted to opt out, or prohibit recreational marijuana establishments in the community.

That resulted in Linder, a political consultant who was involved in the passage of the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act in 2016, to launch a petition drive to place the issue on the March 10 ballot. 

If approved, the ballot question would result in amending a township ordinance about marijuana establishments. 

The ballot language will read as follows: “This proposed ordinance would: Authorize and limit the type and number of marihuana establishments allowed in the Township.”

Mitch Hotts is a multimedia journalist at The Macomb Daily. Reach him at mhotts@medianewsgroup.com

This article originally ran on macombdaily.com.

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