A new petition drive is underway to put liberated marijuana on next year’s fall election ballot. If the team of Marijuana Policy Project and Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol (CRMLA) can gather 252,523 signatures of registered Michigan voters within a rolling 180-day window, the proposal will be on it, which means the drive can go on until any 180-day period passes during which the required amount of signatures is collected. Expectations are to find that window some time no later than early fall.
Here’s what it will do, according to the CRMLA website:
- Legalize personal possession, cultivation, and use of limited amounts of cannabis for adults 21 and older;
- Legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp;
- License marijuana businesses that cultivate, process, test, transport, and sell marijuana;
- Protect consumers with proper testing and safety regulations for retail marijuana; and
- Tax marijuana at retail levels with a 10 percent excise tax and 6 percent sales tax, which will support K-12 public schools, roads, and local governments.
Organizers haven’t forgotten the yeoman effort by MiLegalize to get their proposal on last year’s ballot and the political maneuvering in Lansing that kept it off.
So with a lot at stake, I was pleased to interview Josh Hovey, who is the media contact for CRMLA, the coalition of pro-cannabis groups and organizations in Michigan that came together like a phoenix after the controversial defeat of last year’s effort and is trying again with this new petition campaign. I was eager to know who this new coalition is and how they emerged from the shadows of MiLegalize.
Enter Marijuana Policy Project
The Marijuana Policy Project is a super-group of pro-marijuana organizers. It is considered the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization. When they go into a state to get a pro-marijuana proposal placed on the ballot, they get it on the ballot and it passes. Legend has it that they don’t go into a state unless they think it will win.
They played a leading role in helping to pass the Michigan medical marijuana initiative in 2008. They coordinated the successful campaigns to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada in 2016, and contributed to the successful campaign in California. They coordinated the campaigns to pass similar initiatives in Colorado in 2012 and Alaska in 2014.
So when they came into Michigan to work on this new campaign, the feeling was strong that 2018 was going to be Michigan’s year. No one believes for a second that it won’t take every bit of organizational effort, massive fundraising, and a monumental grassroots signature-gathering army to bring the vision to victory. But there is confidence in the air. “We have to stay organized, stay on message, and keep the fundraising going strong,” Hovey says. “We know the public is on our side, so if we can do those things then we’ll have a very good chance of success in November 2018.”
According to Hovey, MMP was behind the creation of the initial drafting committee, beginning with a “statewide listening tour late last year to talk with activist groups and other stake holders.” They were influential in helping to create the drafting committee, which included the ACLU of Michigan, the Drug Policy Alliance, MILegalize, National Patient Rights Association, Michigan NORML, lawyers representing the Marijuana Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, Michigan Cannabis Coalition, and the State Bar of Michigan Marijuana Law Section.
The resulting initiative compares favorably to last year’s MiLegalize proposal. According to Hovey, the most significant differences include the following:
- The 2016 medical marijuana law was not yet established when MiLegalize drafted their legislation. Our initiative closely mirrors what the state legislature passed last year in terms of licensing structure and possession limits. We did this to help ensure there is as little confusion as possible for businesses and regulators in dealing with the two laws.
- The addition of a marijuana microbusiness license, which will be small businesses licensed to cultivate up to 150 marijuana plants and process, package, and sell that marijuana directly to consumers. They cannot sell marijuana or marijuana-infused products produced by other marijuana establishments, and they cannot wholesale their products to other marijuana establishments.
- The allocation of tax dollars – our initiative funds roads (35 percent of tax revenue), K-12 schools (35 percent of tax revenue), and local governments (15 percent to municipalities that allow marijuana businesses to operate in their borders and 15 percent to counties where those municipalities are located).
- We also allocate $20 million per year for the first two years that taxes are collected to fund one or more FDA-approved clinical trials researching the effectiveness of using marijuana to treat veterans suffering from PTSD.
Passage of the initiative will not eliminate the state’s existing medical marijuana laws, Hovey said. “Those who wish to continue using the caregiver model established by the 2008 voter referendum will be able to do so.”
The 2016 medical marijuana law also remains in place. “The only difference will be that lawmakers wisely included a stipulation that if marijuana becomes legal in Michigan then the tax on medical marijuana sales will be removed. This makes sense because medicine is not typically taxed in Michigan.”
Personal use and possession will become legal after election results are certified, which, Hovey believes, should happen by early December. After that, LARA (Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs) will have twelve months to create the licensing rules and application process for businesses. So by early 2020, Michigan can expect to have adult-use cannabis businesses licensed and operational.
Learning from Defeat
This campaign builds on the lessons learned from the MiLegalize campaign. Hovey praises their efforts, declaring that they “did a great job mobilizing supporters and demonstrated there is a real willingness to end prohibition in Michigan.”
But since the determining obstacle was the failure to get sufficient signatures within a contested timeframe, all eyes will be on whatever it takes to get enough signatures in time, including raising money to pay signature gatherers: The initial goal is $8.2 million.
When you look at successful ballot campaigns across the state, they typically range anywhere from $8 to $15 million. Some have been less, but we know there is likely to be a prohibitionist fear-mongering campaign that comes out in opposition to us so it’s important that we raise enough funds to do what we need, including having enough paid petition support, plus funds for a strong voter education effort that encourages voters to vote yes next year.
Meanwhile, Hovey remains alert to attempts to sabotage all efforts. “We’ve heard of a couple of organizations that are considering launching a campaign against us, but at this point it’s unclear how serious that effort is or if they will have funding. We’ve met with several business associations and law enforcement associations in Lansing in an effort to open a dialogue and we continue to speak with them about the campaign.”
He is confident that we are ready to learn from history. “Prohibition has been a massive failure. It didn’t work with alcohol and it’s clearly not working for marijuana. Our initiative will make Michigan a national leader in smart marijuana policies, reduce unnecessary law enforcement expenses, and generate much-needed funding for our roads, schools, and local governments.”
What You Can Do
Are you ready to bring the insane “drug war” to a long-overdue close?
Visit www.RegulateMI.org to donate and sign up to help with the campaign.