LAPEER, Mich. – Recreational marijuana is close at hand for Michiganders. As of Thursday, April 26, 2018, Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers officially gave its approval on the list of signatures gathered by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) to put recreational marijuana on the November 6 ballot. Now, the only thing that could prevent the proposal from appearing on November’s ballot is the legislature, which could vote on it or make a competing ballot proposal.
The CRMLA has been gathering signatures for months, totaling more than 365,000, of which more than 277,000 have been verified, and the petition aims to legalize marijuana possession and consumption for all adults 21 years and older on the state’s November ballot. If approved by voters, Michigan would become the first state in the Midwest with an adult-use cannabis law.
Though the petition has been building steam for nearly a year, the initiative has been in the works for years, as Michigan has inched closer and closer to legalizing recreational marijuana. As it stands, Michigan has one of the largest medical marijuana programs in the nation – second only to California in terms of patient numbers. The state’s medical marijuana business is expected to generate $711 million in sales and $21 million in tax revenues. According to Forbes.com, Michigan’s program also received one of the highest grades from Americans for Safe Access.
In addition to allowing adults 21 and older to possess and consume limited amounts of marijuana, the initiative would:
- License marijuana businesses that cultivate, process, test, transport and sell marijuana;
- Legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp (used to make textiles, biodegradable plastics, food, construction materials and even fuel);
- Protect consumers with proper testing and safety regulations for retail marijuana;
- Impose a 10 percent excise tax on marijuana sold at the retail level on top of the state’s 6 percent sales tax; and
- Give local governments the option of whether they want to allow marijuana businesses in their community.
In November, the Michigan marijuana ballot proposal would also:
- Legalize the possession and sale of up to 2½ ounces of marijuana for personal, recreational use.
- 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 businesses 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.
It’s been just over a year since the Michigan legislature passed a series of bills creating the licensing and regulatory framework for medical marijuana, called the Michigan Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA), expanding upon the legislation outlining the rules and regulations for the use of legal medical marijuana, which was overwhelmingly approved by Michigan voters back in 2008. Enforced under the Dept. of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, the aim of this act is to protect patients and to implement fair and efficient regulations.
The state is in the process of vetting applications of people who want to get into the medical marijuana business, which is expected to generate at least $700 million in sales. And 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.
Lapeer is one of Michigan’s cities in the midst of vetting applications for medical marijuana dispensaries, receiving a total of 17 applications as of April 20, of which six will be chosen.
Local attorney and marijuana activist Bernard Jocuns is hopeful, if not ecstatic, about Thursday’s news, saying, “This is a really positive thing for the City of Lapeer. People just need to get away from the backwards “Reefer Madness” mindset. The MMFLA will help make this community more vibrant. People will not just be coming to get medical marijuana or at some point legal adult use marijuana but will also be spending money at other local businesses within the city.”
Many local governments were less than eager to welcome marijuana-related businesses into their communities, citing a host of reasons. Many municipalities either voted to opt out or did nothing, which, as of Dec. 15, 2017, was the same as opting out.
Some communities accept medical marijuana use for compassionate reasons, including but not limited to terminal illnesses. And many believe that the new Facilities Licensing Act will better enable, or simplify, the spirit and actual practice of the patient-caregiver relationship. Other communities may be responding to a real demand or a broad majority support locally for providing medical marijuana facilities and business opportunities. And, perhaps most important to concerned municipalities, the introduction of cannabusinesses may represent a significant revenue source.
Within the City of Lapeer, which opted in to the provisions of the MMFLA, applicants for six medical marijuana dispensary licenses will be reviewed on a merit-based system drafted by the city clerk’s office and legal counsel. Though dispensaries will be limited to a half dozen, the Lapeer City Commission is not limiting the number of medical marijuana grow facilities that can locate in the city, nor are there restrictions placed on the number of processors, testing facilities or secure transporters that may operate in the city.
The next step in the process will entail a three-person panel (yet to be assigned by the city commission) to begin the review and scoring process of the merit-based applications. This business will be started conducting on April 23 and will last until May 11. In the event of a tie between the top-scoring applicants to satisfy the threshold of six license winners, those applicants will be entered into a random drawing. Should, for any reason, a completed application be denied by the City of Lapeer for a dispensary license, the applicant may initiate an appeal process detailed in Chapter 68 of the city’s general ordinances before the next applicant listed in sequential numerical order on the waiting list will be considered.
This is not the first time that marijuana has been a point of contention for the City of Lapeer, as the November 2016 initiative to decriminalize marijuana within the city limits was defeated by just six votes.
Said Jocuns, “People are just going to have to get over this! Just like the election in November 2016, I did not like the result personally, but that is what we have for the time being. The reality is that marijuana is here to stay and it’s really not a big deal (unlike the 2016 election results). Most of the people that are complaining about it have absolutely no education on the issue and are basing these misperceived notions on how they were raised. It is clear that these myths have been de-bunked, and it’s time to move into the 21st century. And this will certainly help make the community a lot more progressive and more inviting.”
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-percent support for legalizing marijuana. Marijuana activists will continue to push forward until the November election, educating Michigan citizens on the facts of marijuana and raising money to finance their endeavors.
With the Board of Canvassers’ approval, the state Legislature now has a number of options: it could pass the initiative, 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.
Because this particular issue has the potential to draw a record number of democratic voters to the polls in November, Republicans might want to keep the issue off the ballot in November. But, as it stands, it would be a very difficult vote for Republican lawmakers to take as many of them face elections in the fall.
Officials tend to agree that the proposal will appear on November’s ballot. In which case, the issue lies in the hands of the voters.
Bernard Jocuns is a founder of the Marijuana Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan. If you need help with a marijuana matter, business or criminal call (810) 245-8900.