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Michigan's recreational marijuana initiative to appear on ballot this November

By Rick Schettino
Sep 07, 2018

Cannabis reform advocates in Michigan are optimistic. It’s widely believed that the state’s voters will approve a measure to legalize and regulate both recreational marijuana and hemp in the state. The initiative, now officially titled, “Proposal 1,” will appear on ballots November 6. The final language was approved by Michigan's Board of State Canvassers in discussions on Thursday.

Back in April, the Coalition To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the organization at the helm of the initiative, turned in a petition aiming to place the initiative onto this November’s ballot. The group collected more than 365,000 signatures from registered voters. The board-certified more than 250,000 signatures.

Shortly after the petition signatures were certified, in an unexpected move, a committee created to oppose the initiative issued a news release formally asking the legislature to pass marijuana legalization ahead of this November’s election. However, Michigan lawmakers failed to act in time to vote on the measure before the end of the session. Still, the end of any effective opposition to the bill is sure to impact voters’ opinions of the proposed legislation.

[Read More: Lawmakers introduce bill renewing push to legalize medical marijuana for military veterans]

“When even your opposition is arguing in support of marijuana legalization, it is clear that now is the time to end cannabis prohibition in Michigan,” CRMLA spokesperson Josh Hovey said in an official statement. “The legislature has an opportunity to do the right thing and every day we wait means more unnecessary arrests and lives ruined, so we too urge lawmakers to pass legalization immediately.”

The initiative received another boost in public opinion when, just recently, 80-year-old grandmother Delores Saltzman made headlines in the state for being jailed for possession of one-eighth of an ounce of medical marijuana. Law enforcement officials claimed the woman had let her medical marijuana card lapse. A judge has since dropped the charges, ordering the woman to renew her card.

And, in more recent news, at the end of July, charges were dropped against a number of individuals involved in a medical marijuana grow operation after the Detroit Police Department's Gang Intelligence Unit raided the facility and seized approximately $1 million worth of cannabis plants. The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office made the argument that the facility was allowed to sell, and not grow, at the facility. A defense attorney in the case said the facility was granted a temporary certification from the city, and that this allowed the defendants to grow up to 1,500 plants while waiting for the filing process to be approved by the city.

The judge in the case responded, "That kind of leads me to the burning question: 'If you’re able to dispense, but you can’t grow it, how are you supposed to get it? Where are you supposed to get it from?'"

According to FBI statistics, more than 20,000 people are arrested for marijuana-related incidents in Michigan every year. The new measure might cut that figure in half in coming years by minimizing arrests and making black market sales less profitable, thereby saving the state’s criminal justice system millions in court and incarceration costs.

Multiple opinion polls show 60 percent of Michigan voters are in favor of Proposal 1. “That’s a very strong starting position as we head into the campaign season,” says Hovey.

[Read More: U.S. Senate Grants Veterans the Right To Use Medical Marijuana]

On a side note of relevance, the state has had a medical marijuana program in place since 2016. Recently, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill which is expected to expand the state’s patient count greatly. The revision adds new qualifying medical conditions to the program while easing some of the requirements and restrictions on patients.

Implementation of the medical program has not gone without a hitch. Earlier this year, the state’s regulatory agency sent letters to more than 200 dispensaries which they claim missed a February deadline for submitting a license application or for not having the permission of their respective municipalities. The letter ordered the businesses to shut down or face legal action. Also, the state’s regulatory agency has yet to issue a commercial producer license but is expected to do so in October.

The language of Proposal 1

The CRMLA initiative borrows from the best practices used by other states as well as Michigan’s existing Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act which was passed with bipartisan support in 2016.

The proposed language of Proposal 1 was “fairly straightforward and neutral,” according to Hovey. However, Hovey said that a couple of critical details were left out.

"Our only complaint is that they did not clearly define the strong restrictions that will be in place once the initiative passes," Hovey said earlier this week. "In addition to allowing local communities to restrict or ban marijuana businesses, consuming in public and driving under the influence would remain strictly illegal. Also, businesses will retain their right to test their employees for marijuana use and ban them from using if they need to do so."

While the approved language on the ballot is only 100 words, the full proposal takes up five pages.

[Read More: For Ohio’s medical marijuana program, government is the problem]

CRMLA said it approves of the final proposal wording. "This ballot language makes clear that Proposal 1 will create a strongly regulated system that gives adults 21 and older the personal freedom to consume without fear of arrest while generating millions in new dollars for roads, schools, and local governments -- three of our state's most under-funded needs.

What the approved language does not explain, however, according to Hovey, is that “there are many more restrictions in place than what has been approved: communities will have the authority to restrict or ban marijuana businesses; driving under the influence will remain strictly illegal; businesses will retain their right to test and ban their employees from using, and public consumption would still be strictly illegal."

The law, should it pass, would direct the state to create a licensing and regulatory system for the recreational marijuana industry which is similar to the state’s existing medical marijuana program.

Possession limits are generous in the proposed rules, allowing residents to grow up to twelve cannabis plants, posses up to 12 ounces of dried flower or up to 15 grams of concentrate.

Proposed tax rates on recreational marijuana are low, and may be the lowest in the country at 10 percent. Tax revenue is being earmarked to cover administration of the program. However, the bill provides for $40 million to be allocated over the next few years to invest in research into the use of medical marijuana by U.S. military veterans and preventing veteran suicide. All remaining funds would go to cities and counties with marijuana retail stores or micro businesses, as well as to the School Aid Fund, and to improving the state’s roads and bridges.

The basics of Proposition 1

  • Applied only to ages 21 and older
  • Bans smoking in public places
  • Prohibits driving under the influence of marijuana
  • Allows residents to grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal use
  • Limits marijuana kept at homes to 10-ounces
  • Anything over 2.5 ounces must be kept in a locked container
  • Municipalities would be allowed to ban or restrict marijuana businesses.
  • Commercial sales of marijuana would be permitted through state-licensed retailers
  • Sales are subject to a 10 percent tax. The tax money would be spent on education, improvement of roads, and funding to municipalities where marijuana businesses are located.

Furthermore, although it’s not mentioned on the ballot language, Proposal 1 would also legalize the cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of industrial hemp.

The language the board approved on Thursday

Proposal 18-1

A proposed initiated law to authorize and legalize possession, use and cultivation of marijuana products by individuals who are at least 21 years of age and older, and commercial sales of marijuana through state-licensed retailers

This proposal would:  

Allow individuals 21 and older to purchase, possess and use marijuana and marijuana-infused edibles, and grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal consumption.  

Impose a 10-ounce limit for marijuana kept at residences and require amounts over 2.5 ounces to be secured in locked containers.  

Create a state licensing system for marijuana businesses and allow municipalities to ban or restrict them.  

Permit retail sales of marijuana and edibles subject to a 10% excise tax, dedicated to implementation costs, clinical trials, schools, roads, and municipalities where marijuana businesses are located.  

Change several current violations from crimes to civil infractions.  

Should this proposal be adopted?  

[ ] YES

[ ] NO

And here is the initially proposed language.

An industry insider’s perspective

To find an industry insider’s perspective on the promises that Proposal 1 holds for the state’s cannabis industry, PotNetwork spoke with Thomas Tong, director of the upcoming 1st Commercial Cannabis Conference & Expo being held in Detroit October 30-31. Tong is also a principal at Cannabis-Aid, a local services company focused on the Michigan commercial cannabis industry. Tong has been active across business, industry, and government. He has been actively working with stakeholders across business, industry, and government.

“What’s coming now [with Proposal 1] is a reflection of a whole new economic framework,” Tong says. “Some see liberty around cannabis in different ways either commercial or medical; I see it as one of Michigan’s largest opportunities from an economic perspective. Our state framework is set up to be favorable for commercial [marijuana]. We’re set up for scale.”

Tong believes that the history and current agricultural infrastructure in Michigan are ideal for this emerging industry. “If you look further beyond this, as a state, we have a deep history in agriculture. Our agribusiness system is profound, from credit unions to deep supply chains… We have a very fertile environ for commercial agricultural operations. There used to be a stigma that the northern states were not as productive in growth, but when you look at the scale of what’s happening in Canada, it is obviously highly successful,” says Tong.

[CBD News: Cannabis analytics firm offers a look into hemp-derived, pharmaceutical CBD oil markets]

Tong claims that Michigan is unique among states in regards to its regulatory agency. “Unlike other states, we have a proactive regulatory body. LARA [Licensing and Regulatory Affairs] is exceptionally proactive in communicating to the greater cannabis community. Their two-way communication is refreshing. We don’t have to villainize our regulatory agency. We see them as a partner. So I think we're at a good place in how were moving along.”

Tong also points out that hemp is another important consideration in the state’s cannabis industry. “Also hemp will be active in Michigan,” says Tong, “not just because of what’s coming, but also because of where we have been and what we have been doing for the last 100 years.”

More about CRMLA

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is made up of multiple cannabis activist groups and drug policy reform groups. According to the group’s website, organizations supporting the coalition include the Marijuana Policy Project, the ACLU of Michigan, the Drug Policy Alliance, the National Patients Rights Association, Michigan NORML, and MILegalize.

In November of 2107 the nation’s largest cannabis trade organization, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), signed on as a supporter, greatly expanding the CRMLA’s reach and influence.

NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith said at the time, “As the country’s second-largest medical marijuana market, Michigan has the opportunity for serious job and economic growth in the adult-use cannabis industry. The 2018 ballot initiative put forth by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol combines some of the best practices and regulations from around the country, and we are excited to take part in supporting this effort.”

CRMLA Spokesperson Josh Hovey says the organization is “thrilled to have the National Cannabis Industry Association as part of our growing team and their timing couldn’t be better.”

To date, CRMLA has achieved some significant milestones including bringing together a unified coalition of cannabis reform and social justice advocates to develop ballot language. The group is also responsible for the collection of more than 360,000 signatures for their petition to place Proposition 1 on the November ballot.

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