Will Michigan be Next to Legalize Marijuana?

Will Michigan be Next to Legalize Marijuana? - Weed Finder™ NewsLANSING, MI — Two separate — and potentially competing — groups are laying the groundwork for 2016 ballot proposals that would seek to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in Michigan.

Jeffrey Hank, an attorney who spearheaded a still-pending legalization effort in East Lansing last year, filed paperwork with the state on Tuesday to form the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee.

“We want to do something in 2016 that will give Michigan voters the gold standard for cannabis reform,”  “we can look at other states that have done it, cherry-pick their best practices and make the best law we can.”

Voters in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have already chosen to legalize marijuana, and groups in a number of other states are pursuing ballot proposals. Recent polling suggests roughly 50 percent of Michigan voters support the concept of legalization and taxation of marijuana sold through state-licensed stores.

While planning has only just begun, Hank said the new Michigan coalition will seek to protect and improve the state’s medical marijuana law, create a legal system for taxable sales to adults and allow industrial hemp farming.

Marijuana activists from around the state are expected to gather this weekend to discuss more specifics about potential ballot language, petition circulation and fundraising efforts.

“There is not a pot of money that’s funding this operation,” said Matthew Abel, a Detroit attorney and executive director of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

“There are a number of people who are going to put up an initial kitty to begin work, but serious fundraising is going to have to occur. Petitioners will have to be paid.”

The activist community has long discussed a potential statewide proposal, but the effort has taken on a new urgency in recent weeks with formation of a new group they fear will put a more restrictive legalization measure on the ballot.

Suzie Mitchell, President and CFO of the East Lansing-based Mitchell Research & Communications firm, filed paperwork with the state last month to create a new nonprofit corporation called the Michigan Responsibility Council.

Mitchell, speaking with MLive on Wednesday, said it was too early in the process to discuss many details. She confirmed the company is an “advocacy group for the cannabis industry” that will likely transition to a ballot committee later in the year.

“It’s very preliminary at this point,” she said. “All we can say is that the goal is full legalization for 2016.”

Paul Welday, a political consultant and former chairman of the Oakland County Republican Party, is involved in the effort as well.

“At this point, it is a group of people who are coming together to look at what some of the options might be,” Welday said. “It’s not a ballot committee, but the organization is looking at opportunities for a potential ballot initiative in 2016.”

Sources familiar with the effort believe the Michigan Responsibility Council will be well funded and may seek to create a tightly regulated industry.

In Ohio, for instance, a group called ResponsibleOhio is working on a November 2015 ballot proposal that would limit production to ten wholesale growing sites controlled by investors. The group this week expanded their pending 2015 ballot proposal to include home growing for personal and medical use.

Michigan’s marijuana activist community wants to pursue what Abel called a “craft beer model” rather than a “Budweiser model” for growing and distribution, allowing smaller-scale and in-home growing operations.

“With craft beer, there are smaller batches, but people really take pride in their product and are making unique, rich and and varied products,” he said.

Both potential petition drives will take months to get off the ground, but state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, is hoping to get the conversation started sooner rather than later in the state Legislature.

Irwin, who introduced decriminalization legislation last session, is preparing a new bill that he said will take “the next step” toward full legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana.

He called Colorado, where legal marijuana sales through licensed stores began last year, a “successful experiment” that could inform a similar system in Michigan.

“What you’re seeing is reduced use amongst adolescents, reduced crime, reduced drunk driving deaths and you’re seeing quite a bit of tax revenue,” Irwin said. “All of those are good things. What I’m hoping to do is take that law and improve upon it for Michigan.”

Irwin had bipartisan backing for his decriminalization measure last session, but the bill did not advance in the state Legislature, where legislation related to Michigan’s voter-approved medical marijuana law also stalled out last year.

Marijuana prohibition has been a costly failure, according to Irwin, who said he was not surprised by talk of potential ballot proposals and would prefer to see a “free market” approach to legalization.

“I think the idea of putting this question to the voters is a good one,” he said. “The public is way ahead of politicians on this issue, as usual.”


(Will Michigan be Next to Legalize Marijuana? – Weed Finder News)