By Bob Hendricks
In the past decade, Michigan has made real progress in beginning to roll back state law marijuana prohibition. In 2008, the voters approved the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA), which created limited rights for patients and caregivers to produce, transfer and use marijuana for medical purposes free from the risk of prosecution. Last year, the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA) greatly expanded the scope of legalized medical marijuana activity.
Still, these laws protect marijuana use only for approximately 220,000 registered patients. Recent Gallop polling indicates that almost 15% of Americans use marijuana, the majority for recreational purposes. That’s nearly 1.5 million Michigan consumers. Many Michiganders who use marijuana for recreational purposes still run the risk of arrest and prosecution. When is this likely to change?
Twenty percent of all Americans live in one of eight states or the District of Columbia which have now legalized adult use of marijuana. The law was changed in each of these states by voter-approved ballot initiatives. Michigan may follow that path.
Practically, there are two ways Michigan law can be changed to allow adults to use marijuana. First, like the eight states, an amendment of the law can be presented to voters in a regularly scheduled election just as was done with the MMMA. If a sufficient number vote in favor, the proposal becomes law. Alternatively, the Michigan Legislature can pass bills in the House and Senate and present those bills to the Governor. If signed, the bills become law.
We are aware of and are assisting two different groups which are pursuing adult use legalization. One through the ballot initiative process, and the other by persuading a member of the Michigan House to sponsor a bill and then push it through the Legislature. Both groups are composed of people who have experience in the marijuana legalization process. And both are at least tangentially aware of the existence and efforts of the other. Presumably, one of these two can ultimately be successful.
The ballot initiative group (let’s call them BIG) is setting its sights on the November 2018 election to provide the voters of Michigan the opportunity to join Colorado, California and others in total state legalization of marijuana. To do that BIG needs to define the details of the initiative, make certain those details are acceptable to more than a majority of likely voters (based on polling), obtain the legally required number of supporters to sign the petition within 180 days of starting, and then conduct a campaign (more polling, plus advertising) to encourage its supporters and to respond to opposition. Some of the leaders of BIG have done this sort of project before, so they know how to create the path toward success.
The legislative solution group (LSG) has watched previous ballot initiatives fail, and wants a solution to the patchwork that currently exists under the MMMA and the MMFLA and to expand legalization to all adults, not just patients. To get sufficient votes in both the House and the Senate, LSG will have to craft a bill with enough protections to hold its supporters, but not so broad as to drive away the majority needed to pass a bill. LSG will also need to determine what the Governor will need to sign on. The timing might be more attractive to those who support legalization, since there is no need to wait until November 2018. LSG, like BIG, has leaders who know how this sort of process works.
The fact that BIG and LSG are both actively working for their goals can provide advantages to the other. For example, legislators who know that a viable ballot proposal is circulating may decide to create their own law before the voters act—which helps LSG. If a legislative solution achieves approval of politicians and the Governor, and creates a system acceptable to its supporters, BIG can terminate its process here and use its resources for another initiative in another state. The risk is that alternatives can create division among those sympathetic to the broad cause, thereby splitting up financial resources and support between the two and undercutting both.
Several states have proven that voters will support full legalization of adult use marijuana. Elected politicians are getting much more comfortable with the reality of public opinion supporting repeal of prohibition. It’s not unreasonable to believe that adult use could be a reality in Michigan before the end of 2018.