Legal Marijuana for Adults in Michigan on December 6, 2018: How Will Our Newly Elected Officials Implement the Act?

LAPEER, Mich. – As of the November 6 election, Proposal 1, which legalizes the use and sale for adults 21 and older, has been passed. Although the law still has a few weeks left before it takes effect, things are beginning to change around the state in preparation for the incoming adjustments and amendments to the way the State of Michigan will address the once controversial topic.

Michigan’s state and local governments must first establish regulations before products hit the shelves, which will likely take about two years, as the initiative gives the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs 24 months to create and start distributing licenses. LARA spokesman David Harns told Bridge “we anticipate waiting until the election results are certified [by the Board of State Canvassers] to discuss the particulars.”

Attitudes toward marijuana and the laws regulating it are changing across the country. The stigma that for so long surrounded the drug is being lifted, as roughly 60 percent of Americans think recreational marijuana should be legalized. On November 6, 2018 (Election Day), Michigan became the 10th state and the first in the Midwest to legalize recreational use.

Unlike other states, Michigan’s legalization effort does not include exoneration for those who’ve been convicted of marijuana crimes in the past. However, on the campaign trail Governor Elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have said they support such a path.

During her campaign, Nessel castigated Republicans’ approach to criminal justice, telling Bridge Magazine that their “policies are inhumane, costly, and do nothing to enhance public safety.” Nessel is a proponent of marijuana legalization and, much like Whitmer, says she’ll fight for legislation to expunge past marijuana-related convictions. Additionally, she says she’ll advocate to put specialized courts in every jurisdiction, create a “Conviction Integrity Unit” to investigate wrongful convictions, and establish a “Police Conduct Review Team” to investigate abuses of power by officers.

Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, who scored a 53-44 percent victory in the November 6 election, said she intends to use the governor’s clemency powers to free at least some of the thousands of people serving time in state prison for marijuana-related convictions, in light of the election’s strong vote to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

“For conduct that now would be considered legal, no one should bear a lifetime record,” Whitmer said at a recent news conference at the Motor City Casino and Hotel in Detroit. “We will start taking a look at that and taking some actions early next year.”

The new law, passed on Nov. 6, is known as the “Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act” (MRTMA) and does not replace the currently effective Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA) nor the 2008 ballot initiative known as the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA) which established the caregiver/patient system.

MRTMA establishes a regulatory system for the issuance of licenses for growing, processing, testing, transportation and sale of marijuana for use by persons 21 years of age and older. It is believed that many of the MMFLA systems currently in place will transfer into regulatory policies for the new act. The main distinction between current and future is that under MRTMA there is no supervisory board to handle the system as with the current MMFLA. All regulatory processes under MRTMA will be through the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).

“With Proposition I now becoming MRTMA, there will be interesting developments regarding the implementation of MRTMA and the criminal implications,” said Lapeer-based Attorney and Marijuana Activist. “Both Governor-elect Whitmer and AG-elect Nessel have expressed their willingness to eradicate the War on Drugs in Michigan, in an effort to make our great state safer and more welcoming.”

In Michigan, more than 20,000 people were arrested in 2017 on marijuana charges, most of which were low-level use or possession crimes that may not be illegal under the newly passed marijuana legalization.

In the last five years, 117,123 Michiganders have been arrested and charged with misdemeanor marijuana offenses and 49,928 of those people have been convicted, according to statistics compiled by the Michigan State Police from records supplied by county prosecutors and courts.

Another 3,670 people are either in prison, jail or on probation for felony marijuana convictions, according to the Michigan Department of Correction’s 2016 annual report of its inmate population. Some of those convictions were for high-level marijuana distribution charges, but others were for simple possession or use of marijuana.

“It’s nice to see priorities shift from what has been plaguing Michigan for the past eight years,” said Jocuns. “Unfortunately, there will be overzealous law enforcement officials that will try to make criminals out of law-abiding citizens, as there are several distinctions from the Act of 2008.”

As of Nov. 8, 2017, five counties in Michigan have begun an effort to combat drugged driving by employing what are now known as “Drug Recognition Experts,” or DREs, comprised of 26 Michigan State Police officers, each of whom are armed with handheld devices to test for the presence of drugs in drivers’ saliva.

Everyone wants safer roads, but many skeptics are already questioning the accuracy of the handheld devices, as well as the Drug Recognition Experts themselves. However, morality aside, many are simply concerned that roadside drug testing is not scientifically valid. And with Michigan’s current legislation, which allows legal adult use of marijuana in addition to medical marijuana, any inaccuracy in this new roadside drug testing can mean the difference between freedom and jail time for those who are otherwise abiding by the law.

Red flags or drug symptoms for police officers can include any number of things. “A dilated pupil, slurred speech, uh, looking like there might be something wrong with them, illness-wise,” says First Lieutenant Michael Shaw, a spokesperson for the Michigan State Police (MSP).

Skeptics worry that the recognition of “red flags” or “drug symptoms” can vary too widely, and may ensnare an otherwise unwitting and innocent man or woman based on flimsy assumptions and inaccurate scientific protocol, as the gauge for the DREs’ handheld devices has not withstood the test of time, nor has it been proven a failsafe measure of drug ingestion, let alone impairment.

According to the Associated Press, because drugs affect each person differently, there’s often no firm agreement on how much of these substances equate to an impaired driver. As a result, there is no consensus on what level amounts to impairment, and one can surmise that settling on this kind of a test can be quite complicated, which has been reiterated by academic experts and authorities across the nation. Also, a study published in the Journal of Analytical Methods of Chemistry found that roadside drug testing has a high chance of false negatives and positives.

Police will report to the Legislature in a year about the program’s accuracy and the number of arrests, which will help to determine which kind of testing and efforts will be implemented to combat drugged driving, specifically as it relates to marijuana.

“Several fear-mongering statements about intoxicated driving, increased incarceration rates and THC levels are all misfires,” said Rick Thompson, owner, Michigan Cannabis Business Development Group. “An estimated 1.3 million Michigan residents already use cannabis and we have seen no evidence that they cause driving problems; there is no reason this would change due to Prop. 1 Incarceration rates will fall due to Prop 1, not increase. Prop 1 requires maximum THC levels to be established for marijuana infused products.

On a national level, following the midterm election results, legislative leaders in both the House and Senate finally appear ready to take on the cannabis issue. And in Michigan, things are changing quickly, although the many likely benefits have yet to become as evident, though it won’t be long.