Third Michigan Legalization Petition Joins the Fray


Michigan now has a third full adult use legalization initiative in the signature gathering phase. MILegalize is backed by Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, a group of traditional marijuana activists. The Michigan Cannabis Control and Revenue Act is supported by the Michigan Cannabis Coalition, a group reportedly with close ties to local Republican Party operatives.

The most recent contender, from Abrogate Prohibition Michigan, is an example of what Keith Stroup, founder and Legal Counsel to NORML, describes as the “tomato model.” And in Stroup’s view, the tomato model—as in “tax and regulate marijuana like tomatoes,” which means barely at all—is not good for legalization’s prospects.

Support for marijuana legalization is soaring in the United States. A recent poll shows 56 percent of likely voters in Michigan support legalization, but advocates may or may not be able to get it done in 2016. The existence of three competing proposals undoubtedly complicates the issue.


Competing Initiatives

MILegalize would leave rule-making up to local governments, set a $5,000 cap on licensing application fees and a $500 limit on renewal fees charged by municipalities. It would allow home growers up to 12 plants. It also would legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp. Edibles manufacturers would have to include a nutritional panel on their packaging conforming to FDA requirements.

MCC’s proposal, the Michigan Cannabis Control and Revenue Act, would leave most rule making, regulatory details and licensing fees up to the state legislature or a newly formed board. It would sharply limit home growing, allowing home growers only two flowering marijuana plants per dwelling. Local municipalities would have the option to ban or restrict the commercial sale of cannabis, as well residential cultivation.

Abrogate Prohibition Michigan’s proposal is the least restrictive of the three. It would amend the Michigan Constitution to fully legalize the use of the cannabis for recreational, medicinal, agricultural and other uses. It would authorize use by minors with parental consent. It would also prohibit taxes or any regulation that would diminish use.

This is the “tomato model.”


Perils of the Tomato Option

The tomato model of legalization has considerable appeal to many cannabis consumers and is already familiar from initiative proposals like Bay State Repeal in Massachusetts.

Longtime legalization advocate Stroup, much to the surprise of some, however, has come out strongly against it: “We don’t have the option of no controls,” he told the audience at his presentation entitled, “Legalization: Why We Are Finally Winning After All These Years,” at last month’s High Times Business Summit in Washington, D.C.

He reasons that the specter of no control is frightening to the “marijuana middle,” those who may have come to believe that the War on Drugs went too far, but who remain concerned about adolescent use and impaired driving, for example. It is the marijuana middle, he insists, that is essential to the success of current efforts.

While debates rage about the shape of legalization, the petition timeline ticks down.


Tricky Time Limits

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers approved the language for the first two ballot initiatives in June. Since then, both MCC and MCCLRC have been organizing petition drives in hopes of garnering the 252,523 valid signatures necessary for inclusion on the Nov. 8, 2016, ballot.

Under Michigan law, sponsors of initiated statutes may select a 180-day period to collect signatures, as long as that period ends at least 160 days before the election. The drop-dead date is thus the end of May. MILegalize recently announced that it had decided to extend its signature drive beyond the previously announced Dec. 21 deadline. The signatures that it collected prior to the new 180-day window will be disqualified.

The Board of Canvassers approved the language of Abrogate Prohibition Michigan’s proposal to amend the Michigan Constitution on Dec. 29. The group will also have a self-selected 180-day window within which to gather 315,654 signatures. The number is a greater number than required for either of the other proposals because the proposal is a constitutional amendment. Signatures must be submitted 120 days before election, or by mid-July. With the beginning of a new year, the push is clearly on.


How Will It Shake Out?

None of the proposals may make it to the ballot. All of them may find a spot. They may cannibalize each others’ support. If more than one were to pass, the one with the most votes would become effective. In any event, the struggle over what marijuana law and commerce should look like in Michigan has clearly taken a new turn toward complexity.

Anne Wallace is a New York lawyer who writes extensively on legal and business issues. She also teaches law and business writing at the college and professional level. Anne graduated from Fordham Law School and Wellesley College.

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