Hopes are high for legal pot in Michigan

It's on.

Last week the Board of State Canvassers approved the language for a petition by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. That means if the CRMLA can gather 252,523 valid signatures in a six-month window by May 30, 2018, the question will be placed on next year's November ballot for voters to decide.

Wasting no time, a coalition press release announced that a "signature collection kickoff event will be held before the end of May."

"Prohibition didn't work with alcohol and it has clearly failed with marijuana as well," said CRMLA spokesman John Truscott in the release. "Our campaign will make Michigan a national leader by creating responsible regulations that will end the waste of law enforcement resources that goes into enforcing Michigan's outdated prohibition laws while also creating jobs and generating much needed tax revenue for our state."

This is the moment that many have been waiting for and on the timetable that prudent prognosticators pointed to back in 2014. And it should be noted that Truscott is the spokesman for the campaign. He was the press secretary for former governor John Engler and is a principal in Truscott Rossman, probably the most powerhouse PR agency in the state.

In addition to local and national organizations such as the ACLU of Michigan, the Drug Policy Alliance, the National Patients Rights Association, Michigan NORML, MI Legalize, the Michigan Cannabis Coalition, and the State Bar of Michigan Marijuana Law Section all contributed to the petition language. That looks a lot more powerful than the last effort was coming out of the gate. For instance, the campaign will pay signature collectors from the start. The MI Legalize campaign relied on volunteer signature gatherers at the outset.

But hold your horses before you start celebrating. As we know from the last election, weird things can happen.

There's a lot of huffing and puffing about marijuana coming out of Washington, D.C., and you never know what an embattled and unpredictable President Donald Trump might do. When signing the federal spending bill, which says the Justice Department may not use federal funds to go after state compliant medical marijuana facilities, Trump included a signing statement objecting to that provision along with some others. He could instruct U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to go after these facilities.

Sessions has outlined a tough-on-crime agenda that calls for adherence to mandatory minimum laws and making the toughest provable charges in a case. He's promised to crack down on marijuana and laughs at the idea that it is medicine.

There are still plenty of people getting arrested for marijuana offenses nationally and locally. Michigan State Police data shows arrests went up 17 percent from 2008 (when the medical marijuana act passed) to 2014. And that is despite city after city voting to decriminalize during that period. Many arrests came from crusading law enforcement looking for ways to get around the law. One tactic is to say the person arrested was somehow noncompliant with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act and therefore cannot use it as a defense. For instance, having a few more than the legally allowed 12 plants would forfeit your protections.

And now we're talking about recreational use?

There are a number of industries that would like to see any kind of legal marijuana rolled back — including the pharmaceutical, alcohol, tobacco, and for-profit prison industries — and the prison guards unions, and almost every police force in the nation. And the way this president seems to love the corporate world, who's to say what will happen if these guys catch his ear and he gets prodded by Sessions? Add to that the unpredictability that could come into play, especially if he feels like he's being cornered and has to do something to make himself look tough. Ruining some lives along the way isn't out of the question.

As ominous as that sounds, there just may be a lot of bluster from the federal policy standpoint. After all, there are 29 states with substantial medical marijuana laws, and recreational use is legal in eight states plus the District of Columbia. Then, last week the Vermont state legislature sent an adult recreational use bill to the governor. If he signs the bill, or more likely lets it become law without signing it, it will be the first legislative recreational legalization in the country. So far all the other states legalized it with petition initiatives.

Another interesting thing to note is the Vermont law allows adults to have two plants and possess up to an ounce. There's no provision for commercial grows, stores, and taxes although the state is looking at states where that is going on for future developments.

So while the feds huff and puff, unless something big changes — such as a Muslim dropping a marijuana bomb on Mar-a-Lago — the feds probably have neither the political will nor the budget to take on the burgeoning marijuana industry.

Which brings us back here to the Great Lakes state. Things are looking pretty damn good if you support legalization. A February EPIC-MRA poll showed 57 percent support for legalization in Michigan. That number has been growing year by year and, if trends hold, by 2018 that number should be a little higher.

CRMLA is better organized, better funded, and a little wiser for the experience than the last effort. The reason the 2016 initiative didn't make the ballot was that the signatures weren't all collected within the 180-day window. That's not going to happen this time. In all likelihood this petition will make the ballot. There will probably be a spirited resistance to the legalization campaign, but if people vote as they have been telling pollsters, Michigan should be on track to legalize.

The initiative's provisions:

· Legalize possession, cultivation, and use for adults

· Legalize growing industrial hemp

· License businesses to grow, process, test, transport, and sell marijuana

· Call for testing and safety regulations for retail sales

· Set up a 10 percent excise tax and six percent sales tax for education, roads, and local governments.

This is the moment many activists have been waiting for. Legalizing marijuana will stop ruining families and lives through the legal system. It will take away an excuse for police to harass people. It will allow people to indulge in a mostly harmless leisure activity. And, if places like Colorado and Washington state are an indication, it will put some money into the coffers of the schools and fix the roads.

Oh, did I mention that right across the border in Canada, legal recreational marijuana sales are scheduled to start on July 1, 2018?

Oh, hell yeah, it's on.

About The Author

Larry Gabriel

Larry Gabriel covers cannabis for Metro Times. He also writes the Detroit Watch in the monthly Michigan Cannabis Industries Report. Larry's chapter "Rebirth of Tribe" in the book Heaven Was Detroit, from jazz to hip-hop and beyond chronicles the involvement of Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison, Harold McKinney,...
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