Michigan Senate votes to ban marijuana beer

Lansing — The Michigan Senate on Thursday voted unanimously to ban marijuana-infused beer and wine, a pre-emptive strike ahead of possible legalization of the drug. Legislation sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, would prohibit the possession or sale of marijuana beer, wine, spirits or mixed drinks — regardless of whether they contain alcohol.

The former Eaton County Sheriff said he was inspired to draft the legislation after hearing about similar products in places like Colorado, where Blue Moon’s brewer recently announced it would launch a non-alcoholic beer infused with marijuana.

“If we don’t ban it, we’re going to have it, and it is a recipe for disaster,” Jones said. “If you want it, go to Colorado or Canada. We don’t need it here.” Marijuana advocates say the proposal is a solution in search of a problem, but approval comes as Senate Republicans consider whether to take up a pot legalization proposal by early June or let the citizen initiative advance to the November ballot.

Jones opposes legalization but believes voters would approve the proposal, so he supports a push to adopt the legislation and then amend it later this year. The Senate is unlikely to vote without a clear sign House Republicans would follow suit, a scenario Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, has called unlikely. Jones warned that marijuana beer could be sold at bars, creating liability for owners who sell an “edible” product that may take longer to intoxicate a user than alcohol and have a stronger effect. Bars are not supposed to allow patrons to leave and drive if they appear inebriated. But the legalization proposal would not allow bars to sell marijuana products, said Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Alcohol Like Marijuana. The drug could only be sold through state-licensed dispensaries, which would need to be stand-alone entities. “So once it passes, people won’t be seeing bars or liquor stores, or even convenience stores for that matter, selling cannabis products — just dispensaries,” Hovey said.

Communities would also need to opt in and could set their own zoning and local licensing regulations, he added.

Still, Jones predicted recreational marijuana could open the door to unexpected products the state has never before considered regulating.

“When the November ballot passes … bar the door, it’s going to be the wild, wild West,” Jones told reporters after Thursday’s state Senate vote on marijuana beer. Hovey disputed that characterization, saying the legalization proposal would create a “highly regulated licensing structure just like the medical marijuana system the Legislature passed in the fall of 2016.”

That law, passed with bipartisan support in the Republican-led Legislature, created new regulations separate from the medical pot law approved by voters in 2008.

“We followed the licensing structure almost to the letter,” Hovey said.

The only difference, he said, is licensing would be processed by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs rather than the “politically appointed” Medical Marihuana Licensing Board.

Kevin Sabet, president of the Smart Approaches to Marijuana advocacy group, praised the Senate legislation. Marijuana beer presents a “double whammy” because it’s appealing to kids and is dangerous, he said.

“It should not be legal for medical use or recreational use,” Sabet said.

If Michigan voters see a legalization proposal on the ballot in November, they won’t just be voting on marijuana, Sabet said. “They’re voting on things like (marijuana-infused) candies, ice cream and cookies. Those are very attractive to kids.” Michigan’s 2008 medical marijuana law does not allow bars or liquor stores to sell marijuana products, and dispensaries are not allowed to sell liquor, said Rick Thompson of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

“This seems a lot like a rhetorical legislative exercise because this bill would effect zero people in Michigan,” Thompson said last week in committee testimony. “There’s zero market for this.”

Thompson argued the proposal could also limit entrepreneurs who want to brew beer with Cannabidiol and other parts of the marijuana plant used by medical patients that do not have the same psychoactive effects like Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical commonly associated with a “high.”

Ontario, Canada, recently awarded a $300,000 grant to help a firm develop marijuana-brewed beer, and California wine makers are experimenting with marijuana-infused wine, according to media reports.

“I’m so happy that instead of becoming stoners in Michigan, they’ll go to Canada or they’ll go to California,” Jones said at the hearing. “Thank goodness.”

Lansing, Michigan

LANSING – The battle to free the weed officially started Thursday when the State Board of Canvassers ruled that a group pushing a proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use got enough signatures to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.

The 4-0 decision by the board was met with cheers by advocates for the proposal.

“The people of Michigan deserve this. They earned it,” said Rick Thompson, a board member of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or NORML. “We’ve faced many trials and tribulations. We’ve had so many stop and go signs from the federal government. That’s why states have to take the reins on the issue and really be the crucibles of democracy that they’ve always been intended to be.”

It was the second time that the coalition had turned in enough signatures to get on the ballot. The last time, however, it didn’t get the signatures in a state-mandated 180-day window and the petition was thrown out. But the coalition didn’t have the same problem this time around. “We expected this,” said John Truscott, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. “Now, we’ll be out and about talking to people and educating them about the issues.”

Scott Greenlee, executive director of the Healthy and Productive Michigan political action committee, which opposes the ballot proposal, urged the Board of Canvassers to keep the issue off the ballot because marijuana is still considered an illegal drug by the federal government.

“By putting this on the ballot, you’re disregarding federal law,” he said. “I recognize that other states have done it, but like my mom always told me, ‘Just because your friends jump off a bridge, doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing.’

“We’re picking and choosing which laws to follow and that’s no way to live,” he said, adding he’s not sure whether his group will continue to fight the Board of Canvassers’ decision in court.

The Michigan marijuana ballot proposal would:

Legalize the possession and sale of up to 2½ ounces of marijuana for personal, recreational use.
Impose a 10% excise tax on marijuana sales at the retail level as well as a 6% sales tax. The estimated revenues from the taxes are at least $100 million.
Split those revenues with 35% going to K-12 education, 35% to roads, 15% to the communities that allow marijuana businesses in their borders and 15% to counties where marijuana business are located.
Allow communities to decide whether they’ll permit marijuana businesses.
Restrict purchases of marijuana for recreational purposes to 2½ ounces but an individual could keep up to 10 ounces of marijuana at home.
Allow the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), and not the politically appointed licensing board that will regulate the medical marijuana side of the market, to regulate and license marijuana businesses, ranging from growers, transporters, testers and dispensaries.
Set up three classes of marijuana growers: up to 100, 500 and 2,000 plants.
Michigan voters have already weighed in on marijuana once, approving cannabis for medical use in 2008 by a 63%-37% margin. As of March, 1, 277,752 people are medical marijuana cardholders and 43,131 people are caregivers who can grow up to 72 plants for up to five cardholders. The state is in the process of vetting applications of people who want to get into the medial marijuana business, which is expected to generate at least $700 million in sales.

That financial prediction is estimated to grow to more than $1 billion a year if voters pass the ballot proposal and Michigan becomes the ninth state to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use.

In Colorado, the oldest recreational marijuana market in the nation, sales in 2017 were $1.5 billion.

But getting the ballot proposal passed is not a foregone conclusion, despite recent polls showing more than 60% support for legalizing marijuana.

Healthy and Productive Michigan has $215,286 for the battle ahead, primarily from Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Virginia-based organization that supports cannabis for medical, but not recreational, uses.

“We’ll continue to press forward with education and explain to the public the problems that recreational marijuana will cause in our state,” Greenlee said. “And once it’s certified for the ballot, we’ll have a number of people from Michigan who will come in and support us.”

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol has raised more than $1 million, but spent the vast majority on paying the firm that collected petition signatures. According to campaign finance reports filed this week with the Secretary of State, the coalition has only $17,326 in available cash for the upcoming campaign.

The action taken by the Board on Thursday will trigger a large fund-raising effort, Truscott said.

“We expect to have quite a bit coming in now that it’s all approved,” he said. “There have been a number of meetings in the last few weeks about that.”

With the Board of Canvassers’ approval, the state Legislature has several options: it could consider the measure and pass it, in which case it would automatically become law; it could offer a competing proposal for the ballot or it could do nothing and let the issue go to the Nov. 6 ballot.

While Republicans might want to keep the issue off the ballot in November — because it’s expected to increase voter turnout that could be more beneficial for Democrats — it would also be a very difficult vote for Republican lawmakers to take as many of them face elections in the fall.

Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, seemed to take the legislative vote option off the table on Thursday.

“I don’t anticipate it happening. There’s not much support in the caucus for it and I personally do not support it,” he said. “I think it’s something that the voters are going to have to ultimately decide.”

Delaware House panel approves marijuana legalization bill

DOVER, Del. – (AP) – A bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Delaware has cleared its first legislative hurdle.

The legislation, which was released Wednesday by a House committee and now goes to the full House for a vote, regulates and taxes marijuana in the same manner as alcohol.

The bill doesn’t allow people to grow their own marijuana but allows adults over age 21 to legally possess less than an ounce of marijuana for personal use.

The legislation would create a commission to regulate, license and tax the marijuana industry, allowing licenses for up to 40 retail stores.

Consumers would pay an excise tax of $50 an ounce, while businesses would pay an application fee of $5,000 and a $10,000 licensing fee every two years.