Michigan: Coalition proceeds with its marijuana legalization initiative
Just before Thanksgiving, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol issued a press release announcing that it had “turned in more than 360,000 signatures....calling for its marijuana legalization initiative to be placed on Michigan’s November 2018 ballot.” The coalition was “thrilled” with this showing, as the state requires just 252,000 signatures. The coalition had been working on this for months; on May 18, 2017, Michigan’s Board of Canvassers approved of the ballot language, which kicked off the 180-day statewide signature collection.
When we addressed the board’s ballot language approval in May, we noted that the 180 day window was the problem that kept the initiative off of the November 2017 ballot. This stemmed from a law that the governor signed in June 2016, SB 776, which invalidated any signature on a petition seeking to amend the constitution when it was made more than 180 days before the petition was filed with the Secretary of State’s office.
Prior to the passage of SB 776, supporters of marijuana legalization had four years to collect signatures, but those that were more than 180 days old were assumed to be invalid unless petitioners proved validity. Now, all signatures must be collected within that 180 day window.
The coalition contends that its effort represents a “sensible alternative to Michigan’s failed policy of marijuana prohibition. It positions Michigan as a national leader in the adoption of smart adult-use marijuana laws by allowing adults 21 and older to possess and grow certain amounts of marijuana. It will create a state-regulated system of licensed marijuana businesses that will cultivate, process, test, and sell marijuana and marijuana-infused products to adults 21 and older…”
Also according to the press release, if Michigan voters pass the measure next November, they will:
- Legalize personal possession, cultivation and use of limited amounts of cannabis for adults 21 and older.
- Legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp, which is used to make textiles, biodegradable plastics, food, construction materials and fuel.
- License marijuana businesses that cultivate, process, test, transport and sell marijuana.
- Protect consumers with proper testing and safety regulations for retail marijuana.
- Tax marijuana at retail levels with a 10 percent excise tax and 6 percent sales tax.
- Give local governments the choice of whether and where to allow marijuana businesses in their community. This takes marijuana sales out of neighborhoods and into regulated spaces where IDs are checked and products are tested for safety.
The coalition cheered the national and local support it received from the Marijuana Policy Project, the National Cannabis Industry Association, the ACLU of Michigan, the Drug Policy Alliance, the National Patients Rights Association, Michigan NORML and MI Legalize.
The ACLU of Michigan cited cost as one of the reasons for its support, declaring that “[i]t is unconscionable for our state to continue to spend tax dollars to arrest, prosecute and crowd the courts and our jails with people arrested for marijuana possession.” The civil liberties group also pointed to the harm that befalls community members “…for possessing even tiny amounts of marijuana.” Such harms include disqualification from housing, employment and financial aid opportunities, and custody and immigration problems. “There is nothing practical or fair about the continued aggressive policing of marijuana.”
The full text of the ballot initiative, the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, including definitions and exclusions, is on the coalition’s website. In addition, the site contains an FAQ page that offers more details. For instance:
- What are the possession limits? Up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana outside the home, and up to 10 ounces of marijuana, plus whatever one can grow legally, inside the home. The legal growing amount is up to 12 total marijuana plants in a single residence. Any marijuana beyond 2.5 ounces must be stored under lock and key.
- Who is funding the campaign? Citizens, philanthropists, businesses, and organizations that recognize marijuana prohibition has failed and think it is time for a smarter approach.
- What are the caps on growing licenses? There will be three classes of cultivator licenses, and no one will be allowed to hold more than five grower licenses of any type at the same time through 2023. After that point, the cap will be lifted. There is also language that provides for strong local control that will allow communities to regulate the types and number of marijuana businesses they want within their jurisdictions. The three classes are:
- Class A “microgrower” license, allowing for the cultivation of up to 100 marijuana plants.
- Class B license, allowing for the cultivation of up to 500 plants.
- Class C license, allowing for the cultivation of up to 2,000 plants.
A late September Business Insider article reported that the Michigan Chamber of Commerce was not happy with the direction the marijuana legalization initiative was taking. The chamber asserts that “it threatens the ability of employers to maintain a safe and drug-free workplace.”
But the ballot language contradicts this position, specifically establishing that the measure:
- Does not require an employer to permit or accommodate conduct otherwise allowed by this act in any workplace or on the employer's property.
- Does not prohibit an employer from disciplining an employee for violation of a workplace drug policy or for working while under the influence of marijuana.
- Does not prevent an employer from refusing to hire, discharging, disciplining, or otherwise taking an adverse employment action against a person with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of that person's violation of a workplace drug policy or because that person was working while under the influence of marijuana.
Nevertheless, the “next step for the Michigan Chamber is to educate and inform voters across the state about the real and negative impact these dangerous proposals would have on job creation and business success.”
Ballotpedia’s list of potential and certified ballot measures seeking to legalize marijuana is growing. In our May article, we recognized the following states:
- South Dakota