Pubdate: Wed, 25 Mar 2015
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2015 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel
Note: Larry Gabriel writes the Stir It Up and Higher Ground columns 
for Metro Times and is editor of The American Cultivator.


It looks like voting on recreational marijuana is nearly a done deal 
in Michigan for the 2016 elections, unless the state Legislature gets 
in on the act and passes a legalization bill even sooner. The 
Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Initiative Committee 
(MCCLRIC) has announced its intention to circulate petitions to put 
recreational legalization on the ballot next year. Another group, the 
Michigan Responsibility Council (MRC), has reportedly been preparing 
its own petition for a different system of legalization. And state 
Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, has plans to reintroduce legalization 
legislation this session.

During a recent edition of Off the Record, host Tim Skubick, co-host 
Susan Demas of, and Detroit News Capitol reporter Chad 
Livengood all agreed a petition drive would be successful. Although 
Livengood suggested the MRC has ulterior motives.

"I would look for the Legislature to [do their own thing] before this 
thing gets on the ballot," he said. "A lot of this posturing of the 
Republican group, which is Suzie Mitchell and Paul Welday, these are 
two big power players in the Oakland County Republican establishment. 
They are pushing this to try to make the Legislature open up their 
eyes and maybe take this on before it gets on their plate and causes 
problems for them. ... Look for the House to look at this."

That would be just fine with attorney Jeffrey Hank, chair of the 
MCCLRIC, a coalition of many of the activists who were active in the 
drive for medical marijuana and the municipal decriminalization 
efforts the past few years - that includes the Michigan Chapters of 
the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and 
Americans for Safe Access.

"If [the Legislature] were to take our idea and run with it, that 
would be great and I hope we're pushing them to move ahead with 
this," says Hank. "Then we could go home and relax."

Hank also says the campaign will be using a name such as MI Legalize 
rather than forcing folks to learn the clunky "MCCLRIC."

Although the MRC has been filed as a nonprofit with the state, 
Mitchell and Welday haven't said much publicly about their 
intentions. Mitchell is a political fundraiser, and it stands to 
reason that they'll be well-funded. News reports have claimed their 
basic idea is similar to one that Ohio entrepreneurs are pursuing. 
ResponsibleOhio's initiative, aimed at a 2015 ballot, would divide 
the state into 10 wholesale growing operations with each one 
controlled by investors. The plan's original intention of no home 
grows was recently changed to allow home-growing licenses, partly 
because of the competition of three other initiatives in the state.

Tim Beck, who cofounded the Safer Michigan Coalition, says that he's 
serving in a consultant capacity to the MRC and has signed a 
confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement with the organization.

"I believe this group has the ability to make cannabis legally 
available to anyone over the age of 21 who wants to use it," he says. 
"This has been my political goal for 14 years - to achieve legalization."

Beck isn't saying much beyond that, but his MRC relationship seems to 
put him at odds with many former allies who fear that a movement they 
worked for over many years, laying the groundwork for legalization in 
Michigan, is going to get co-opted by donor-investors who want to 
lock up the industry now for a relatively few profiteers.

Hank says Michigan would realize $200 million in tax revenues. Tax 
revenues are but a percentage of the total economic activity being 
taxed. Hank also says that taking pot off the plate for police will 
garner $300 million in savings for law enforcement.

The committee is still going through a process of document 
development and refining ideas. "We want to do a really good law, get 
feedback from everyone and get something we can live with and can 
pass," says Hank.

But there are some basic principles Hank is ready to talk about: "Not 
amending the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act or in any way taking away 
a right, privilege, or benefit of any patient or caregiver."

His group wants a tax-and-regulate system in which anyone 21 and over 
can buy marijuana. There would be sales and excise taxes; the $200 
million figure is based on numbers in Colorado and increased 
proportionally for Michigan's larger population. Tax revenues would 
go 40 percent to roads, 40 percent to schools and 20 percent to local 
governments. And industrial hemp production would be legalized.

"A Michigan farmer would get a license to grow hemp," says Hank. 
"That's going to be regulated differently than marijuana."

It would seem that the two groups should be communicating with each 
other. They share the goal of legalizing marijuana, but according to 
Beck and Hank they haven't talked yet. Hank's people have run these 
kinds of initiatives numerous times but they lack the kind of funding 
usually needed to win. The MRC looks to be able to raise large 
amounts of money quickly and has access to the ears of Republican 
politicians who could influence the electorate. Could there be a 
meeting of the minds?

"We're willing to talk to them," Hank says. "They're quiet and 
haven't announced their intentions. Until they come out publicly and 
say what they're going to do or approach us, we don't know what they 
intend. If we can work together to end cannabis prohibition without a 
cartel or cronyism, we will."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom