Pubdate: Wed, 25 Nov 2015
Source: Seattle Weekly (WA)
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
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 

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 

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: Matt