There's still a lot to unravel with legal marijuana in Michigan

There's still a lot to unravel with legal marijuana in Michigan

The apparatus of marijuana prohibition was built more than 80 years ago. It has become a giant construct embedded in law and attitudes, and it's going to take a while for your frightened neighbors, the police, the prison system, and reluctant politicians to get over recreational legalization.

In some states police dogs have been retired because they can't be untrained to sniff for marijuana. The same thing goes for some people. They will never stop being scared of it.

Cannabis bias is a real impediment. The easiest example of that is our lack of a fully functional medical marijuana distribution system even a decade after the law was established. Moving on to a recreational distribution system would seem to be an even bigger peril, except for a few things.

After fighting about it for eight years, the state legislature finally passed laws allowing marijuana provisioning centers. That is the system that is not quite off the ground right now. Fortunately, the new marijuana law specifically states that stores are allowed to sell cannabis and that the state will begin granting licenses within 12 months of the effective date of the act, which will be Dec. 6, 2019. (See here.)

Another plus is that there are friendlier politicians than the outgoing administration. The incoming folks already made it easier to pass Prop. 1 in this recent campaign season.

"It is different," says Matt Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "I was the campaign director in Maine and Massachusetts when voters approved legalization. I think in terms of support from statewide candidates, Michigan has been the best of the three states. They knew from their polling and research that a high number of voters supported legal marijuana. ... Legalization has been normalized over the past several years."

That ought to make it easier to implement the new law. Although legalization may be normalized, but there will still be plenty of resistance to marijuana. There have been almost daily reports since the elections of municipalities declaring that they don't want marijuana businesses in their backyards. It was an immediate reaction of fear on the part of many.

That reaction was expected and a selling point for legalization. Telling folks that they could choose not to have stores helped allay some fears. Over time that fear will ease up. Consider the "dry county" and other municipal entities that wouldn't allow alcohol sales after Prohibition ended. Even today there are still hundreds of dry, moist, or wet counties, cities, and townships with some kind of impediments to the sale of alcohol. It wasn't until 2013 that Oak Park allowed beer and wine served by the glass, and in 2015 allowed liquor by the glass.

So whatever the terminology for municipalities that opt out of the marijuana system is, there will be plenty of them at first. Over time that will fade away, although pockets of resistance to marijuana will endure.

At least the state law will be on the side of cannabis tolerance and the new state administration looks to welcome the marijuana industry.

"It's a new phenomenon across the country," says Jolene Foreman, a staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance in Washington, D.C. "We've seen a marked shift on marijuana legalization, particularly for Democrats. They're position reflects the will of voters. Lawmakers are catching up with their constituents."

Citizens' initiatives have dragged politicians and law enforcement kicking and screaming into the reality of marijuana. That said, note that not all politicians and hardly any law enforcement in Michigan have caught up with the medical law we passed 10 years ago. They've got a whole lot more catching up to do with recreational legalization. Remember that law enforcement formed the backbone of the one big splash Healthy and Productive Michigan was able to make against Prop. 1 just before the election.

The new executives seem willing. Entrenched attitudes and a Republican legislature say this is going to take a lot more than saying, "Let it be so."

Regulatory system chaos

Here's the latest from the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs' David Harns on a date for unlicensed provisioning centers to close and for the official state system to take over.

"As far as we're concerned, the deadline was Oct. 31," says Harns. "We're not able to enforce that at this point because the judge has issued an indefinite stay."

That's all he would say about it, citing "pending litigation." The deadline that LARA clings onto was a month ago. A Claims Court judge has told LARA it can neither enforce that deadline nor set another one prior to Dec. 15. A Nov. 9 hearing produced no decision and no new hearing date has been announced.

Nobody has anything to say about what happens on Dec. 15. Unless something substantial changes in the interim, whatever is set up regarding inventory will not be adequate for the needs of 300,000 medical patients. That has been the hang-up all along because the effort to supply patients has been infected with an effort to root out people who may have been selling marijuana illegally these past 10 years.

Folks should be heartened to know that the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board will not be in charge of licensing recreational outlets.

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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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