Recreational marijuana will be on November ballot

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published June 7, 2018

LANSING — It’s official: Michigan voters will have the final say as to whether recreational marijuana will be legal or not statewide.

On the deadline day of June 5, following a lack of sufficient votes in the Republican-majority Michigan Legislature to immediately pass the marijuana ballot initiative, the issue was relegated to the Nov. 6 ballot. If it passes, Michigan would be the 10th state to legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana for individuals 21 and older.

If the proposal succeeds, industrial hemp would be legal under state and local law; commercial production and distribution of marijuana would be controlled under a system that licenses, regulates and taxes the businesses involved; individuals would be able to possess or consume no more than 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana, and no more than 15 grams of concentrate; and there would be a 10 percent excise tax on marijuana sold at the retail level, on top of the state’s 6 percent sales tax.

Josh Hovey, communications director for pro-marijuana group the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said the coalition would have been happy if the Legislature had passed the initiative as written, but it had to have been as written.

In April, the Board of State Canvassers, via a 4-0 vote, approved an estimated 277,000 signatures of a collected 365,000 signatures. It was about 25,000 more signatures than the required 252,523 to get on the ballot.

Hovey said the system in its current state “has been a disaster.”

According to the ballot language, if the initiative passes, 35 percent of the funds generated  would go toward K-12 education; 35 percent toward the repair and maintenance of roads and bridges; 15 percent toward local municipalities that allow marijuana-related businesses in their jurisdiction; and 15 percent toward counties that allow marijuana-related businesses within their borders.

“It’s making sure tax revenue will go towards roads, schools and local governments — three of the most needed areas of funding every year when the state does the budget,” Hovey said. “We’re not saying it’s going to solve all our problems, but we can generate upwards of $200 million every year in the state in new revenue dedicated to those three areas.”
 
The coalition is in its initial stages of building up its campaign team, complete with researchers, creative types and a robust communication effort that will stress the factual nature of the initiative.

In a state that arrests approximately 20,000 individuals annually for marijuana-related offenses, Hovey believes a successful vote will lead to a drain in the black market and reduce unnecessary arrests, while allowing police officers to better combat the opioid epidemic and violent crime.

“That’s a huge tax on our law enforcement resources, our courts and our jails,” he said. “Overall, we think we have a really (well-thought-out) initiative.”

Scott Greenlee, president of the anti-legalization group Healthy and Productive Michigan, said he expected the initiative to be placed on the November ballot, adding that the group has been prepared to make the case to voters as to how recreational marijuana legalization has negatively affected other legal states, as well as how federal laws supersede state laws.

Throughout the past 1 1/2 years, Hovey said that numerous polls have showed an approximately 60 percent rate of voter support for legalization. Between now and November, the goal is to continue to educate the public and increase that percentage.

“In our own research, we find that as people learn about the initiative, support grows beyond 60 percent,” Hovey said. “It’s up to us to make sure the people have the facts, that the myths are busted.”

Greenlee said the coalition’s poll projections are as such because they have done one- or two-question polls, adjusting the sample size. He said Healthy and Productive Michigan conducted a “deep dive” poll, asking 800 people instead of 500 on their thoughts on legalization.

Results came in at approximately 48 percent of voters in favor of legalization, he said, with future “standard voter education-type activities” aimed to curb that number even more in the coming months.

“I think the jury’s out. … I think it’s easy to say to legalize it and say it’s for roads and watch projections fall flat,” Greenlee said.