TIM SKUBICK: The man behind marijuana legalization in Michigan


In a time when delayed gratification is but a fond memory and instant gratification is the order of the day, knowing someone who waited 14 years to fulfill a lifelong goal is not only worthy for the mere perseverance of it all but its resulting impact on a quarter of a million citizens in the state.

This will be Tim Beck’s legacy long after he is gone.

Tim who?

No doubt you and most of the state citizenry have no idea who this guy is, but if you are now smoking a joint or two or more importantly are using your medical marijuana card to ease the pain for your ailments, Mr. Beck is at the forefront of the movement that brought Michigan the legalization of both. To be sure he did not do it alone, but it was at the vanguard of getting it done.

It’s a story that quietly begins in 2004 as this self-described “committee of one” decides to go where many told him it was wrong, and he would fail if he did. Putting into play his delayed gratification gene, despite the naysayers, he laid the groundwork with others to legalize medical marijuana in Detroit.

And from the get-go, he had two agendas in mind. One public. The other is very secret.

The immediate objective was to help those who needed pot to address their medical needs, but he never disclosed at the time agenda number two, i.e. getting this done in Detroit, was the first critical step toward legalized Mary Jane for everyone who wanted it … sick or not.

The entire effort cost $80,000 and the required signatures were obtained to place it on the ballot.

But there was stiff opposition called the “Partnership for a Drug Free Detroit,” including the Democratic Michigan governor and former prosecutor Jennifer Granholm, GOP Attorney General Mike Cox and His Honor (or not as the case may be) the Mayor of Motown Kwame Kilpatrick. In addition, the Baptist ministers in Detroit were not singing the praises of Mr. Beck and his supporters either.

(As a sidebar story Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, the mom of Kwame, initially endorsed the effort but Mr. Beck soon got a call that there was a “miscommunication” and “would you please take the Congresswoman’s name off your list.”)

Not to be deterred, he hired Adolf Mongo to set up a meeting with some of the ministers, Mr. Beck recalls. Mr. Mongo had, what they called, “connections to the Black community” and was more than willing to take a check and make some calls.

“The meetings were a joke,” Mr. Beck remembers as he never got to first base when he made his pitch to those who feared the impact pot would have on their congregations.

“I knew there was support in the community but who was going to come out for me in front of their local minister? But in the privacy of the voting booth, that was another thing.”

You bet.

Despite somebody who tossed a brick through his living room window before the vote, 59% said yes and Mr. Beck was on his elongated path to total legalization.

The next move was to bring the medical pot issue to a local vote in four communities including Traverse City, Flint, Ferndale and, of course, Ann Arbor. They each said yes. His intent was to prove to the big money pot lobby that Michigan was ripe for total legalization. The Marijuana Project pumped $1.2 million into a statewide petition drive which resulted in 63% of the voters saying yes to medical pot in 2008.

But again delayed gratification was again part of the next move. Rather than immediately launching another petition drive for total legalization, the next chess move was to go into individual cities and legalize it there. So between 2012 and 2015, one city after another signed off. Kalamazoo, Flint, Grand Rapids, Ypsilanti, Lansing, East Lansing, Hazel Park, Jackson, Oak Park and on it went.

The brilliance of this move was clear. There were enough yes votes in those 19 cities to lay a solid foundation for a yes vote on total legalization and in November of 2018 by a 56% to 44% margin the formerly anti-pot state of Michigan became the 13th state to say yes to recreational use by adults over 21.

“I’m a pretty persistent guy,” the now 69-year-old pot advocate chuckles while retelling the story.

Yeah. Waiting 14 years for anything would by definition make you persistent to say the least and make you a rare individual in this “I-want-it-now” culture.

Tim Skubick is a syndicated political newspaper columnist who also anchors and produces the weekly PBS show “Off the Record.”



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