Pubdate: Wed, 08 Jun 2016
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2016 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


MILegalize is still kicking. The effort to legalize recreational 
marijuana in Michigan turned in more than 350,000 signatures in its 
attempt to put the question on the fall ballot. It was the only group 
out of a number of petition efforts to actually turn in their 
petitions with the qualifying 252,523 signatures.

To the organizers, activists, petition circulators, and petition 
signers, I say: "Well done." But the main question being asked now 
is: Was it done quickly enough?

MILegalize spent a year collecting signatures, and overcame numerous 
obstacles, from challenges to the petition print size, to a lack of 
money and no support from national organizations. That's something 
the Michigan Cannabis Coalition's competing ballot initiative 
couldn't do. Neither could the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan 
and a handful of others.

Despite gathering enough signatures, there is an issue with 
signatures that are older than 180 days from the turn-in date. 
There's an unsubstantiated idea that petition signatures have to be 
gathered within 180 days of the date the petition was filed with the 
state - although according to MILegalize chair Jeffrey Hank, some 
initiatives have historically taken years to collect enough signatures.

"We believe that the process we're using squares with the law," Hank 
says. "As long as we have enough signatures, the ball's in the hands 
of the Board of Elections."

While it's unclear as to what the letter of the law is and how it's 
been applied, it looks like Hank's argument holds water. The proof is 
in the fact that the state legislature saw fit to pass a new law, SB 
776, last month titled: "Limit time period for collecting ballot 
initiative signatures."

If the legislature saw the need to explicitly define the 180-day 
period in a new law, it means the time period was not nailed down 
already. In addition, the law would take effect immediately if signed 
by Gov. Rick Snyder, and there is no indication that he won't, 
thereby making the MiLegalize and anti-fracking petitions null and void.

The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, admittedly short of its 
signature goal at the June 1 deadline, has already filed suit, saying 
the 180-day time period is unconstitutional.

"Whether or not the governor signs SB 776, the legal issue of our 
case is that the constitution specifies no circulation period and the 
180-day restriction curtails our right, with or without a rebuttable 
presumption," Ellis Boal, the anti-fracking group's legal counsel, 
said in a press release.

It's possible that MILegalize will support the lawsuit.

"We're talking about it, but there is no final decision," says Jamie 
Lowell, a MILegalize board member. "We've turned in what we believe 
is enough signatures to be on the ballot for 2016."

MILegalize members are not willing to just take no for an answer. 
That wouldn't be in character for the group. Many of its members are 
the same people who have fought to change the state's marijuana laws 
this past decade.

Even if they are successful, MILegalize members have a tough fight 
going toward the November elections. Much of it's an education 
campaign about cannabis, and about how potential tax money could help 
Michigan, which is facing a budget shortfall.

"If it goes to a vote, then we've got a fighting chance," Hank says. 
"Every political figure in Michigan will have to take a stand."

Polls show that 56 percent of Michigan voters support legalizing 
recreational marijuana. That percentage will dip once a well-funded 
anti-marijuana campaign kicks in. Every law enforcement group in the 
state is against legalization, and they've been preparing for the fight.

"The Michigan Association of Police Chiefs is taking the other side," 
Hank says. "They have a PowerPoint presentation right out of Reefer Madness."

Opposition to legalization is focusing on access to young people, 
edible products with high THC infusions, and stoned driving. There 
are plenty of ways to counter these arguments if people will listen. 
For instance, recently published data in the Journal of the American 
Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found that fewer adolescents 
are using cannabis, and those who do are less likely to engage in 
problematic use.

Child-resistant packaging is being used more and more often. However, 
it's difficult to get people to listen when they're worrying about 
what's going to happen to their kids.

"We try to get ahead of that argument, countering those negatives and 
accentuating the positives," Hank says.

It's not the kind of issue that will definitively be put to bed soon. 
There are powerful feelings on each side of the marijuana issue, and 
success in any direction will be met with pushback. Prohibition 
forces have been sharpening their attacks, and they are well-funded. 
Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has fought medical marijuana in 
Florida to the tune of $5 million.

We haven't seen anything like that in Michigan, but even if the 
not-so-deep pockets open up to "save the children," there could be a 
lot of anti-pot money circulating.

This year was seen as a potentially landmark one for marijuana 
legalization. And it still could be, although there have already been 
disappointments in Vermont, where an anticipated legislative 
legalization didn't materialize, and in Ohio, where a medical 
marijuana petition effort recently ended in the face of a restrictive 
medical marijuana legislation that the governor has yet to sign.

As many as 20 medical or recreational votes could take place in 
November across the country. If every one of those votes failed, 
except California, it would still be considered a big year for 
marijuana legalization. In 1996, California was the first state to 
legalize medical marijuana, but a recreational legalization attempt 
in 2010 was lost amid squabbling between factions of marijuana 
supporters. Right now, the balance seems to be in favor of 
legalization, but it's still too close to call.

If a few more states legalize medical marijuana, it would tip the 
balance so a majority of states have substantial medical access. A 
win in Michigan would be big because a not-insignificant state in the 
Midwest, with no outstate help, would be a leader in the cause. There 
are so many scenarios that could play out.

I'm looking for a huge year, thanks in no small way to the folks at MILegalize.

Bravo, Laith Al-Saadi

Congratulations to Ann Arbor guitarist and singer Laith Al-Saadi for 
making it as one of the four finalists on the NBC television show The 
Voice. The show is a singing competition, but Al-Saadi led with his 
guitar to make the finals by growling some great blues and classic 
rock while channeling the likes of Joe Cocker, B.B. King, and Ray 
Charles. Al-Saadi got plenty of praise and kudos along the way, but 
it never came up that he is a regular performer at the Ann Arbor Hash 
Bash, ripping out "The Star Spangled Banner" in Jimi Hendrix fashion 
for the annual rally. A quick online search reveals plenty of 
documentation of Al-Saadi at the bash. Al-Saadi chose to lean toward 
Hendrix on The Voice, playing "All Along the Watchtower" in an 
Instant Save performance along the way. It's not often someone from 
the local scene makes it to the big stage, let alone someone who is 
so openly cannabis-friendly.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom