Pubdate: Wed, 17 Feb 2016
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2016 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


Last spring Michigan was popping with a potential of three different 
initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana statewide. Today it 
looks like the last initiative standing is the MILegalize effort.

"I think that our approach represents the centrist position and is 
capable of being a reasonable and comfortable policy for the 
majority," says Jamie Lowell of MI Legalize. "It's not something 
that's super prohibitive and only allows a few to participate in this 
new emerging market. We kind of find ourselves with the most 
appealing, sensitive and grounded approach."

Lowell places the MI Legalize position between abrogation --totally 
free and unrestricted use of marijuana- and systems such as the 
failed ResponsibleOhio effort that would have granted growing rights 
to a specific, limited number of investors.

It's not totally clear whether the formerly active Michigan Cannabis 
Coalition (MCC) has given up the ghost considering no public 
communication has emerged regarding its campaign in several months. 
The organization, which was never that big on communication, has 
pretty much gone silent. According to financial records filed with 
the state, the MCC did not raise any funds in the last quarter of 
2015. The group still maintains a Facebook page with posts on 
marijuana-related stories in the media, but it has not sponsored any 
activities of note nor does it seem to be collecting signatures on petitions.

An MI Legalize press release refers to the apparent lack of MCC as 
the signs of a "dead campaign."

The Michigan Responsibility Council (MRC) never submitted petition 
language to the state and was thought to be working quietly in the 
state legislature to secure a legislative approach to legalization 
but nothing has been heard on that front in several months.

Meanwhile MI Legalize seems to be chugging along at a steady pace 
that doesn't startle, but they're still in the game. The group's 
press release shows that it collected $275,000 since Oct. 27 and more 
than a half-million in the past year.

MI Legalize reports having collected 240,000 so far. State law 
requires 252,000 valid voter signatures for the petition to be placed 
on the November ballot. The group expects to have more than 300,000 
total signatures turned in for a March 19 goal. Organizers expect to 
achieve their goals with a blitz at polling places for the March 8 
presidential primary. MI Legalize is paying signature gatherers $2 
per valid signature.

It's kind of ironic that things turned out this way. Michigan was not 
expected to make a run at recreational legalization in this election 
cycle. Most prognosticators figured 2018 to be a more realistic goal. 
The national players, such as the Washington-based Marijuana Policy 
Project, have their sights set on the coasts - with the Vermont and 
Rhode Island legislatures looking likely to legalize, and the cluster 
of California, Nevada, and Arizona with likely successful initiatives.

Michigan was far down the list of probable recreational legalization 
states as far as out-of-state strategists and money coming to our aid.

But then the moneyed interests stepped in. The MRC met with state 
activists in winter 2015 proposing something similar to 
ResponsibleOhio's investor-driven approach. Then the MCC popped up 
with a plan with tight restrictions and certification for growers. 
The grassroots activists who fought for medical marijuana and have 
stayed in the legal fights to implement the Michigan Medical 
Marihuana Act of 2008 couldn't stand on the sidelines and watch rich 
investors take over the fertile opportunity they had created.

"We got into it out of absolute necessity," says Lowell. "We knew 
there were organizations with really restrictive models out there. 
The legislature was thinking about some language that was going to be 
a limited tier system. We were heading down the same path where 
things are really restrictive."

So the MI Legalize folks jumped in a couple of years sooner than 
conventional wisdom would have counseled. The latest polls show that 
56 percent of Michigan voters support recreational legalization. 
That's just creeping into the range where activists like to run 
initiatives. Most prefer to see a few more percentage points of 
support to carry an initiative because some will fall off when the 
opposition starts talking.

Now MI Legalize is the only team left after they jumped in by 
necessity. They're not hitting home runs, but they're putting 
together enough base hits to stay in the game. It was the first 
initiative to have its language approved by the state. The cause has 
managed to raise enough money - close to half came in a $250,000 
contribution from an Ann Arbor businessman - to pay for signature 
gathering, although most of the work has been done by volunteers.

"Every step of the way, every benchmark we needed to make we made, 
enough people have supported this to keep it going," says Lowell.

The next benchmark will be to complete the signature gathering and 
have them verified. Some people believe that because the signature 
gathering has taken more than 180 days since filing the petition some 
signatures will not be valid. According to Lowell, that just means 
the verification process becomes more onerous, but the signatures are 
still valid.

I signed a petition when they first began circulating and I wondered 
if I should sign one again. Lowell says no; it's illegal to knowingly 
sign a petition more than once. There are plenty of lawyers in the MI 
Legalize coalition. Let them fight it out.

Marijuana legalization is coming down the pike and 2016 is looking 
like a big year. National polls show about 58 percent of voters 
support recreational legalization. There are legalization questions 
on the ballot in several states and it's a presidential elections 
year, which means high voter turnout and less chance that an inspired 
group of prohibitionists could block the will of the majority.

Michigan should get in on that wave. But if not this year, we're 
still on course for a 2018 date.

Detroit date

Things are roiling around in Detroit too - at least when it comes to 
provisioning centers. The rollout of the recently enacted Medical 
Marihuana Caregiver Centers statute calls for locations to apply for 
certification between the first and last days of March. Detroit 
corporation counsel Butch Hollowell says that 211 locations in 
Detroit have been notified.

The city law requires that facilities be at least 1,000 feet from 
city parks, schools, churches, and other caregiver centers. 
Applications must include a site security plan and background checks 
on all employees. After March 31, the Detroit police and the city's 
building and safety departments will enforce the ordinance. Police 
Chief James Craig has said that officers will respond to complaints 
but not arbitrarily go after facilities.

Detroiters who pushed for the ordinance were strongly concerned with 
the number of pot shops popping up in the city. The new rules don't 
put a limit on the number of facilities allowed, but I'm guessing 
that there will be fewer than 211 marijuana storefronts in Detroit.

However, if things go well at the polls this November, that should 
change considerably in coming years.

Tackling the NFL

The Super Bowl team I backed may have lost the game, but the event is 
still reason enough for me to give a shout-out to the Gridiron 
Cannabis Coalition (GCC), a group seeking to allow players and the 
public to use cannabis as an option for treatment of injuries. Former 
players such as Nate Jackson have estimated that at least half of 
professional football players use marijuana - some say the percentage 
is much higher. The GCC advocates that the NFL allow marijuana as a 
treatment for pain (there's plenty of that in football) and for brain 
injuries. Apparently the league punishes players even on teams 
located in states where marijuana is legal.

Brain injury in football has taken a high profile lately with the 
film Concussion highlighting how the common sports injury leads to 
chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease related to memory loss, 
impaired judgment, and progressive dementia. Emerging science shows 
that marijuana has neuroprotective features that could help patients 
suffering from brain injuries.
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