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


We're heading into the final rounds of the petition drives to 
legalize recreational marijuana here in Michigan. The MILegalize 
petition drive is expected to round things up by the end of December. 
The competing petition circulated by the Michigan Cannabis Coalition 
(MCC) is expected to finish up in January.

In case you were wondering, the MILegalize petition is clearly the 
one you should support and the law you should vote for when the time comes.

The MILegalize campaign comes from the Comprehensive Cannabis Law 
Reform Initiative Committee, which is mainly made up of the activists 
who have been fighting to change the marijuana laws in Michigan for 
many years. These are the people who have stood with the many 
municipal initiatives to legalize marijuana in cities across the 
state. These are the people who have rallied to support those who 
have been unjustly prosecuted in spite of the Michigan Medical 
Marihuana Act (MMMA). They have fundraised, and stood on the state 
Capitol steps, and lobbied in the legislature. Michigan NORML, Law 
Enforcement Against Prohibition, and the Michigan Green Party have 
endorsed MILegalize.

These are the people who have toiled tirelessly over the years to 
change the understanding and perspective about marijuana. They are 
the grassroots activists who have worked under the worst of stigmas 
because of their issue. Many have been jailed for their cause.

That is the first key difference between the competing initiatives. 
The MCC initiative is backed by unnamed investors who aren't saying 
much. Matt Marsden, referred to in the media as a Republican 
operative, is the spokesperson for the organization. Although he 
doesn't speak to me; I've called the phone number on the MCC website 
several times. The mailbox is always full. I've left a callback 
number at least four times and never got a call back.

He's not speaking to the people of Michigan either. The MCC is not 
operating in an open, visible manner. The operation smells of 
investors who want to step in and take advantage of a playing field 
that has been conditioned by the grassroots activists. Now that 
public perception has swung more in favor of marijuana, it's time for 
the big-money interests to take over and reap the financial rewards. 
And for those who still fear marijuana but see that it is here to 
stay, these interests give them a pat on the shoulder to say that's 
why it should be heavily controlled by "big brotherly" interests.

"Ours is much more a personal liberty, free-market business model," 
says attorney Jeffrey Hank, chairperson of the MILegalize effort. 
"Big marijuana does not come in and take over. We have widespread 
support from Michigan cannabis activists."

A key difference between the two initiatives is their approach to the 
home grower. MILegalize proposes that home growers be allowed up to 
12 plants at a time - the same number that the MMMA allows for 
medical marijuana patients. The MCC proposal would limit home grows 
to "two flowering plants," although a grower would have to purchase a 
license to grow those two plants.

Limiting the number of plants creates another level of law 
enforcement issues. Medical patients can have 12 plants but 
recreational users would have two plants. Then you will have police 
running around miscounting plants and misconstruing who is a patient 
or not. And the having to be licensed to have a small home grow is 
just over-regulation. I don't think homebrewers or winemakers have to 
be licensed to produce a small amount for personal use.

Let's make it simple: Unless you are a licensed commercial grow 
facility (or a caregiver with multiple patients) you can have 12 
plants. That way law enforcement and other officials can learn to 
count to 12 and we don't have to worry that you can have this many or 
that many based on various licenses.

Limiting the number of plants in a home grow to two also forces 
consumers to buy the product of the licensed growers and 
distributors. I have a feeling that MCC's unnamed investors expect to 
make a return on supporting the petition initiative by cornering the 
market after legalization.

The MCC is nonspecific in this area. The organization's proposal 
calls for a five-member state Cannabis Control Board, appointed by 
the governor and the leaders of both houses of the legislature, which 
would set the number of cultivation licenses, costs, locations, and 
so on. Right now we have a Republican-dominated legislature and a 
Republican governor. The MCC spokesperson is a Republican operative. 
It's entirely possible that this dynamic could result in a board - 
each member would each be paid $30,000 per year - giving sweetheart 
deals for their friends who made it all possible.

"There are too many unknowns," says Hank. "The local control model 
works. We've seen it work in Ann Arbor. We put control in the hands 
of local government to issue licenses. If we have a hostile governor, 
having that single control could stymie the whole program."

A lesson about public sentiment toward inside cronyism and handing 
special deals to investors might be learned from the Ohio 
legalization initiative that failed miserably a few weeks ago. A 
group of investors who called themselves Responsible Ohio pulled 
together an initiative that would have given a state constituional 
monopoly to 10 investors to run medical and recreational marijuana 
operations in the state. While polls showed that Ohio public opinion 
supported legalizing marijuana, the initiative lost by a 64-36 
percent margin at the polls.

Ian James, a Republican operative who led the Responsible Ohio 
effort, circulated an open letter to Ohioans last week. The letter 
vowed to bring a new initiative to the public in 2016, and read that: 
"Our next plan will include a free market for people to own and 
operate their own grow, manufacturing, and retail facilities. The 
plan will ensure that the industry is treated like other businesses 
in regards to taxation. We will have a new approach to home grow 
without permitting, and inclusion of growing hemp to provide 
opportunities for Ohio's farmers."

James also wrote, "We've heard from thousands of Ohioans since the 
election. And we're closer to knowing what needs to be done and how 
to get there - together."

Apparently he got the message that the public does not want an 
oligarchy running the regulated marijuana business in Ohio. And we 
don't want one in Michigan either. There is another lesson James got 
that might apply here. He writes about getting to the goal "together."

That's what the MCC is not displaying with their 
one-man-behind-the-curtain-representing-unnamed-investors way of 
doing things. We aren't even allowed to know who they are. Rather 
than their faces we have been presented with a cartoon of a doped-up 
looking gnome with marijuana leaf beard puffing on a pipe emitting a 
smoke cloud in the shape of Michigan. This shows a lack of taking the 
public seriously just as the Buddy the bud character did in the 
failed Ohio effort.

The MCC has not shown that it is taking Michiganders seriously on this subject.

The activists of MILegalize have shown time and again that they stand 
with the grassroots efforts to stop marijuana prohibition in the 
state. And that is the strength of this initiative. It has grown from 
the bottom up rather than jumping on board once the hardest work is 
done as the MCC investors have done.

It's still a year out from the vote and plenty of time for any number 
of other petition initiatives to make the ballot. The Michigan 
Responsibility Council, which clearly shows monopolistic intentions, 
has been working in the shadows of the state Capitol with its 
political operatives. The state legislature could move on the issue 
before the fall elections - although a petition initiative would 
still go to the ballot and voters could overrule a legislative move.

In the meantime there is an easy choice between the two petitions in 
the public eye. MILegalize is the one that creates a democratic 
free-market pathway to legal marijuana. Sign the MILegalize petition 
over the next few weeks and give ourselves a wonderful Christmas 
present with real possibilities in the new year.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom