Pubdate: Wed, 25 Feb 2015
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2015 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


It looks like longtime state activists will mount an effort to put 
the question of legalizing marijuana for recreational use by adults 
on the 2016 ballot. They're being pushed by the appearance of a new 
organization, the Michigan Responsibility Council (MRC), with ties to 
the state Republican Party, that has its own plans to tax and 
regulate the plant.

Either group will have to fight to get it on the ballot and probably 
faces a tougher fight to garner enough votes to pass it. The idea of 
a split electorate having to choose between plans does not bode well 
for either side.

Leaders of various marijuana and medical marijuana activist groups 
have been debating a 2016 legalization initiative the past couple of 
years. An EPIC-MRA poll commissioned by the Michigan Chapter National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (MINORML) late in 2014 
found that 50 percent of voters support legalization, with 46 percent 
opposed. That's not the kind of overwhelming support that backs 
successful petition initiatives and pulls in support from national 
donors. Organizations such as the Marijuana Policy Project, which 
helped write the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act and worked on 
strategy to pass the law in 2008, looks for 58 to 60 percent support 
in the polls before really getting behind an effort.

However, a January Survey USA poll showed that Michiganders would 
prefer to tax marijuana rather than raise the state sales tax to 7 
percent in order to pay for road repairs. They'd rather charge marijuana users.

That'll be part of the strategy from the newly formed Michigan 
Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee (MCCLRC), says attorney 
Jeffrey Hank, who led the decriminalization initiative in East 
Lansing that will be voted on this year. He attended a meeting of 
stakeholders over the weekend to hammer out details of the proposal.

"Now is the time, the perfect storm," he told me before the weekend 
meeting. "That poll related to the road tax, when you add in the tax 
equation, support is at 64 percent. We saw the governor take a couple 
hundred million dollars out of the school fund. ... We can't afford 
to leave this [tax] money on the table."

The MRC is a nonprofit group supporting the cannabis industry. Suzie 
Mitchell, of West Bloomfield, helped create the organization. She 
told Mlive it will probably transition into a ballot committee later 
this year. Mitchell is a Republican fundraiser and one of her 
partners is Oakland County-based Republican consultant Paul Welday. 
They haven't publicly announced or endorsed any specific plan.

Hank and others believe the MRC supports a model that would 
centralize the marijuana industry in the hands of a few growers and 
retail chains similar to what has been proposed by ResponsibleOhio, 
an initiative backed and bankrolled by investors hoping to run the 
industry there.

"We want a decentralized model," says Hank. "If you took this other 
approach with the 10 centralized facilities, you'd be enriching a 
very small group of people. We'd like to create a craft beer model 
rather than a Budweiser model and allow for adults who want to grow a 
limited number of plants themselves. We have three pillars: Preserve, 
protect, and improve the MMMA; create a system for taxation and 
regulation; and permit the farming of hemp."

Craft beer seems to have been a successful experiment for the state. 
Even without that model, home beer and wine makers have long been 
producing their own stuff. Federal law allows a single adult 
household to produce up to 100 gallons of wine or beer each year. 
Since marijuana regulation has taken on the alcohol regulation model, 
allowing home grows shouldn't be a big stretch of the imagination.

The state legislature could pre-empt it all with a bill to legalize 
marijuana this year with the pressure of possibly facing an 
initiative next year. Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) has indicated he 
plans to reintroduce a decriminalization bill. Irwin introduced a 
similar bill in 2013 that never got voted on. And two bills that were 
widely expected to pass during the 2014 lame-duck session that would 
have allowed nonsmoking forms of marijuana and local choice on 
whether to allow dispensaries also never came up for a vote. Some 
version of all of each those proposals are being talked about, but 
nothing definite is on the table right now.

"The legislature is not getting the job done," says Hank. "They're 
not ready to do this, but the average citizen is. We can't wait for 
the legislature. Jeff Irwin will introduce a legalization bill in the 
legislature; that's kind of an open secret. If the legislature would 
take care of it, that would be great, but we're kind of [of] the 
opinion that we're not going to wait for anybody anymore."

Any plan to make hay opposing the sales tax hike has to get rolling 
right away. The sales tax question is on the May ballot, and polls 
show that voters are pretty much evenly divided on the idea. If the 
MCCLRC wants to mount a campaign to inform voters of an alternative 
plan to the sales tax hike, that has to reach them quickly.

Also, for the long run, the MCCLRC has cash concerns and will be 
counting on fundraising events to bring in the necessary money. The 
MRC, run by a professional fundraiser and backed by investment 
interests, could be well ahead on that count. Whichever way this 
goes, even if it's legislative, the issue has heated up quickly in 
the past few weeks and doesn't look like it will cool down anytime soon.

The appearance of the MRC has added another iron to the fire. 
Everybody concerned is feeling a little more motivation to get 
something done, and that might be just what the issue needs.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom