Republicans in the Michigan legislature want to vote on recreational cannabis legalization before the week is up. But while Great Lake State conservatives could finally open the floodgates for marijuana policy reform in the Midwest, the socially progressive crossover is still flush with ulterior motives.
According to Michigan Live, the legislative legalization push would enact the state's prohibition-ending marijuana ballot measure before a public vote, allowing Michigan's lead Republican lawmakers to more easily amend the law and add new, presumably stricter, regulations to the state's impending green rush.
"I'm proposing that we adopt it and amend it and put it right under the [medical] marijuana law and regulate it," Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, who is leading the legalization charge, told MLive.
Late last year, Michigan cannabis activists collected over 360,000 signatures in support of a legalization ballot measure appearing in the upcoming midterm elections, which was then quickly approved by state officials. Compound that initiative with polling data that shows over 60% of Michigan voters support legalization, and experts around the country have widely predicted the Great Lake State as a near-lock for legalization.
If passed, the ballot measure would legalize the possession, use, and sale of marijuana for adults 21 years and older. Residents and tourists alike would be able to carry up to 2.5 ounces of weed and purchase pot from state-licensed stores. Like Colorado, Michigan's legalization program would direct cannabis tax revenue to local schools and road repairs, with a proposed 10% excise fee added to every marijuana product.
Reading the writing on the wall, Michigan legislators and anti-cannabis advocates have all but given up the fight for prohibition, and have now shifted their focus towards regulatory control and the ability to amend the particulars of legalization.
Put to a successful popular vote, Michigan lawmakers could amend the voter-approved ballot initiative with support from three-quarters of the state legislature. If the legalization effort is passed by legislative vote, though, Sen. Meekhof and his Republican peers will only need a basic majority to make changes to the state's marijuana laws. With a current conservative majority in Lansing, those changes could be made as quickly as the bill is approved.
For the cannabis advocates who worked tirelessly to construct and validate Michigan's legalization measure, the legislative power grab is troubling. Like post-legalization problems in Massachusetts, Maine, and elsewhere, supporters are worried that legislators could add unnecessary red tape and delay the implementation of Michigan's retail market.
"We're happy for the legislature to adopt our initiative as written. But we have a strong position that it doesn't need to be changed right away," said Josh Hovey, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "We used Michigan's 2016 [medical marijuana] framework to draft our initiative, and we followed it very, very closely,"
In addition to possibly adding higher taxes or stricter zoning rules for pot shops, political experts have argued that a legislative end to marijuana prohibition could change the outcome of Michigan's other November elections, with young people potentially discouraged from participating in the democratic process without the option to vote for legal weed.
If Senator Meekhof and Great Lake State Republicans are going to pass cannabis legalization on their own, though, they will need to act fast. Michigan's Senate and House of Representatives must both approve the initiative before the end of Tuesday, or the measure will automatically be sent to November's ballot for a public vote.
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