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Alcohol and Tobacco Companies Want a Piece of Michigan's Marijuana Market

Vice industry reps were present at the state's latest legalization meeting, but their input won’t dictate the terms of Michigan’s new cannabis laws.

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Marijuana advocates in Michigan are currently preparing a new measure that would put recreational marijuana legalization up for a vote on next year's ballot. At the same time, officials are working to finalize the state's medical marijuana regulations by the deadline of December 15th.

This week, the Marijuana Policy Project organized a discussion between several stakeholders in the marijuana industry regarding the 2018 legalization effort. In addition to the expected group of marijuana advocates and legislators, a report from Marijuana Business Daily says executives from alcohol and tobacco industries were also at the negotiating table.

Paul Weisberger, attorney for Wild Bill's Tobacco, a chain of Michigan smoke shops, and Jared Rapp, an owner of the Traverse City Whiskey Co. distillery, were both involved in this week's negotiations. Rapp, who is also an attorney, said that he has “no interest in the marijuana industry and no plans to enter the industry in any way at this time,” but that he was merely retained for his expertise in the state's strict alcohol regulations.

Wild Bill's Tobacco may have more of an interest, having donated $50,000 to the recreational legalization campaign. In 2015, Weisberger told state legislators that the company hoped to run legal marijuana retail businesses in the state. Heather Azzi, an attorney with MPP who was also involved in the recent talks, said that “there's certainly a history” of alcohol and tobacco businesses becoming interested in the marijuana industry. “Those industries are keeping an eye on us, and are involved.”

Azzi pointed out that although alcohol and tobacco industry representatives' ideas were heard, they were not dictating the terms of the legalization measure. “Various industry interests were represented on the drafting committee, but ultimately most of what they requested was not included because it was not the best policy for Michigan.”