LAPEER, Mich. – The stakes are high, and so are the hurdles. For recreational marijuana to not only make it onto November’s ballot, but to garner enough votes to actually pass, a number of things must first fall into place. And now that a few of those items have begun what could be a domino effect, many individuals and organizations are working diligently to ensure that the rest of the pieces assemble before the November election.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA), which is seeking to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Michigan, has now gained approval to get the issue on the 2018 general election ballot. If approved, Michigan would be the ninth state to legalize marijuana, joining Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
The Michigan Marijuana Legalization Initiative may appear on the ballot in Michigan as an indirect initiated state statute on November 6, 2018. The measure would legalize the recreational use and possession of marijuana for persons 21 years of age or older and enact a tax on marijuana sales. If approved by voters, Michigan would become the first state in the Midwest with an adult-use cannabis law.
On April 26, the Michigan Board of Canvassers concluded that more than enough signatures had been submitted for the ballot initiative and approved the collected signatures. A random sample of signatures indicated that 277,370 signatures were valid—24,847 more signatures than were required. The Michigan State Legislature has until June 5 to adopt or reject the proposal. If the legislature rejects the initiative or takes no action, then the measure is placed on the ballot. However, as of May 4, zero statewide ballot measures were certified for the 2018 ballot in the state of Michigan.
No group has yet come forward to challenge the collected signatures, so unless the Board of Canvassers overrules the Bureau of Elections or the Legislature decides to take up the issue, it’s headed for the November ballot. On most ballot proposals, the Legislature has three options: vote on the issue and it would automatically become law; put up its own competing ballot proposal or do nothing and the issue proceeds to the 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. Without the ballot item, officials are estimating that significantly less people will make their way to the polls.
As it stands in Michigan now, the possession or use of marijuana for recreational purposes is illegal. Voters first approved a ballot initiative in 2008 to legalize the medical use of marijuana. Although the Department of Justice under Presidents Trump (R) and Obama (D) has not prosecuted most individuals and businesses following state and local marijuana laws, both medical and recreational marijuana are illegal under federal law as of 2018.
The new initiative was designed to allow adults aged 21 years or older to possess and use marijuana for recreational purposes. Individuals would be permitted to grow up to 12 marijuana plants in their residences. The measure would create an excise sales tax of 10 percent, which would be levied on marijuana sales at retailers and microbusinesses. The initiative would allocate revenue from the taxes to local governments, K-12 education, and the repair and maintenance of roads and bridges. The measure would also legalize the cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of industrial hemp. Municipalities would be allowed to ban or limit marijuana establishments within their boundaries.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is leading the campaign in support of the initiative, had raised $1.63 million as of May 2. However, a number of officials and organizations have rallied against the initiative. Healthy and Productive Michigan and the Committee to Keep Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools have officially registered to oppose the ballot initiative. The Committee to Keep Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools and Healthy and Productive Michigan organized opposition committees and had received $281,020, with $275,000 of the total from Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action (SAM Action).
The Committee to Keep Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools issued a statement saying the initiative is “ill-advised and not in the public interest” and that, “We are on the verge of creating a regulated system for the production of medical marijuana which will provide regulation, taxation and rigorous testing so that patients and doctors will know the products are safe. The ballot proposal puts the public at risk and will be vigorously opposed.”
The Michigan Chamber also opposes the 2018 ballot proposal to legalize the adult recreational use of marijuana as it would threaten the ability of employers to maintain a safe and drug-free workplace. While traditionally considered a “social” issue, the Michigan Chamber cannot overlook the specific language in the 2018 ballot proposal and the fact that it would create any number of issues for employers and the workplace and encourage lawsuits to be filed against employers.
Lapeer-based attorney and marijuana activist Bernard Jocuns weighed in on the election and the ballot initiative, saying, “The upcoming fall election is almost a litmus test regarding the direct impact of marijuana pertaining to (progressive politics) in Michigan. With a potential slate of all female candidates, the possibilities are without limit if there is a strong progressive voter turnout come that first Tuesday in November (2018). This is uncharted territory in Michigan politics and I am happy that cannabis is playing such a vital role.”
Michigan NORML, a supporter of the ballot initiative, hired polling firm EPIC-MRA to ask voters about the measure in late February 2018. EPIC-MRA surveyed 600 residents, finding support at 61 percent, opposition at 35 percent, and 4 percent undecided or who refused to answer the question. The strongest level of support for the measure, at 87 percent, came from residents between ages 18-34. The strongest level of opposition to the measure, at 58 percent, came from residents who described themselves as strong GOP Tea Party supporters. Of those surveyed, a majority of Democrats (74 percent) and independents (72 percent) supported the initiative, while the percentage of Republicans who supported and who opposed the measure was tied at 48 percent.
“This November, Michigan voters will finally get the chance to eliminate Michigan’s outdated marijuana laws,” said CRMLA spokesperson John Truscott. “Just like with alcohol, it is clear that prohibition doesn’t work and that regulation and taxation is a far better solution.”
“This is an important reform that will help end thousands of unnecessary arrests and redirect law enforcement resources to real needs – like combating violent crime and fighting the opioid epidemic – while also generating hundreds of millions of new tax dollars for our schools, roads and local governments,” said former Detroit Police Chief Ike McKinnon.
“This isn’t just my opinion,” McKinnon added. “I’ve talked to countless law enforcement officials throughout Michigan and the country who believe the same.”
Voter-initiated laws are required to collect 252,523 valid signatures to have an issue placed on the ballot. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted more than 365,000 signatures to the state Elections Bureau in November last year. Elections Bureau staff estimate that more than 277,000 signatures were valid.
“When you look at the success of other states that have already legalized and regulated marijuana, it is clear this initiative is the path forward,” said Michigan NORML board member Brad Forrester. “States that have legalized and regulated marijuana have seen decreases in opioid-related deaths while also adding hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue each year.”
Other organizations supporting the coalition include the Marijuana Policy Project, the National Cannabis Industry Association, the ACLU of Michigan, the Drug Policy Alliance, the National Patients Rights Association and MILegalize.
“With polls showing nearly 60 percent of Michigan voters supporting legalization, it’s clear that the public is way ahead of the politicians on this issue,” said Jeffrey Hank, executive director of MILegalize. “The people are tired of the failed policies of the past and understand that creating reasonable, responsible regulations is the way forward to tens of thousands of new jobs and opportunities in Michigan. This November the people will make their voice heard!”
There have been rumors swirling throughout the state that the Legislature could take up the marijuana issue, as a way to keep it off the ballot in November because the question is expected to drive an increase in voter turnout, which could hurt Republicans at the ballot box.
Republican political consultant Dennis Darnoi said it’s not necessarily feasible that the Republican-controlled Legislature would take up the issue, but it would be a smart and strategic political move.
“I think it’s one of the issues that will drive turnout,” he said. “And in competitive state House seats, an extra 50 to 100 votes could swing an election.”
But state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, quickly snapped back, saying, “There is absolutely no chance that the Senate will take up marijuana legalization for recreational use,” he said. “I’m opposed to it and I think the vast majority of the caucus is opposed. We’ll just leave it up to the voters.”
“All Democratic candidates have embraced marijuana while the right-wing slate is full of prohibitionists and obstructionists relating to marijuana reform and the war on drugs in general,” said Jocuns. “There are no guarantees, but the Committee to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has an extremely relevant impact on the 2018 Michigan election.”
As of now, however, the item seems destined for the ballot in November, unless the Legislature takes it up, however unlikely that may be. If the initiative winds up on the ballot, all that stands in its way is voter complacency.