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.”