By Daniel Ulloa
AUG 24, 2018
An initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes is on the ballot in Michigan this November. While its opponents are making noise, it is likely going to pass due to its widespread support in the polls and support from the Democratic nominee for Attorney General.
The Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act, if passed, would allow those who are 21 and older to legally purchase marijuana for recreational use. Individuals could carry up to 2.5 ounces and have 10 ounces at their home. In addition, they could grow up to 12 plants at home. Municipalities would have the right to ban businesses related to distribution within their respective limits. There would be a 10 percent tax on marijuana products sold in addition to the state’s 6 percent sales tax.
A 10 percent sales tax would be lower than Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and California.
The language of the ballot initiative does not include reforms to the criminal justice system that would wipe away the charges of many previous offenders of marijuana-related crimes, as happened in California. To address such issues, the legislature would need to take further action.
Supporters of the initiative seek to displace the underground marijuana market in addition to raising revenue to pay for a wide variety of efforts, including $20 million to fund research to treat PTSD. Thirty-five percent would go to funding K-12 education within the state, another 35 percent would go towards improving infrastructure, 15 percent to cities in relation to the number of marijuana businesses within their limits, and 15 percent to county governments using the same metric.
The driving force behind the initiative
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is the driving force behind the ballot initiative. As the name states, they seek to have marijuana become legal, regulated and taxed in the manner of alcohol. They have worked arduously for months to have the initiative placed on the ballot.
“While we would have been happy to see our initiative passed by the legislature as written, we are confident Michigan voters understand that marijuana prohibition has been an absolute disaster and that they will agree that taxing and regulating marijuana is a far better solution,” said coalition spokesperson Josh Hovey in a statement this past June.
The coalition is made up of a range of pro-marijuana advocates including the ACLU of Michigan, the Drug Policy Alliance, MILegalize, National Patient Rights Association, the Michigan chapter of NORML, the Marijuana Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, and the Michigan Cannabis Coalition, among others.
“Multiple polls show that roughly 60 percent of Michigan voters want to see marijuana legalized and regulated but, as we saw with the legislative debates these past few weeks, there is still a lot of misinformation out there,” said Hovey. “The fact is that our proposal is carefully written to be a model for responsible cannabis regulations and closely follows the medical marijuana licensing law passed by the state legislature in 2016.”
A growing base of support for cannabis
The Democratic candidate for Attorney General, Dana Nessel, supports the legalization campaign. She said publicly she had been a firm supporter of legalization for many years. Nessel won a close primary in April over a candidate who had a far weaker position on the issue, among others, and only became openly supportive of legalization after a poll showed it enjoyed a 61 percent approval rating among Michigan voters. Her campaign criticized his flip-flop.
Nessel’s website states that “Michigan needs common-sense licensing and regulation of cannabis manufacturing and distribution. When elected, I will work with the legislature and local law enforcement to ensure a safe market that keeps cannabis out of kids hands, and off the roads.”
While Michigan has not had a Democratic attorney general in 16 years, many are predicting that it will be a good year for the Democrats. Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic nominee for Governor, also supports legalization.
Healthy and Productive Michigan, the organization that is the main opponent of the initiative, has support for a law enforcement association. They have begun running an aggressive ad campaign across, radio, TV, and Facebook.
Medical marijuana has been in effect in the state for 10 years. If the referendum passes, Michigan would be the 10th state legalize it.
Legalization is also on the ballot in North Dakota, Utah, and Missouri. Advocates in Oklahoma failed to collect a sufficient amount of signatures to qualify.
After an effort failed in 2015 that would have set up an unfair system, pro-legalization advocates in Ohio are seeking to put the issue on the ballot again next year.