A Michigan coalition advocating for legalized recreational marijuana has recently collected over 350,000 signatures on petitions requesting lawmakers to consider a vote on the matter. The coalition is hoping that recreational marijuana would be treated and regulated in the same way as alcohol. Do you believe that the coalition’s efforts will be successful?
Is recreational marijuana about to be legalized in Michigan?
Members of the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol believe so.
State lawmakers, however, weigh in both ways on the issue.
Earlier this month, the coalition turned in several cases of signed petitions to get the referendum either approved, or placed on a ballot for voters to decide.
About 350,000 people signed the petitions, nearly 100,000 above the 252,000 signatures the state requires for the proposal to be looked at.
The proposal is simple in theory; to make marijuana legal and regulate it the same way as alcohol and other controlled substances.
Some state lawmakers don’t see it that way.
I’m for recreational use of marijuana,” said Rep. Frank Liberati (D-Allen Park), whose district includes parts of Dearborn Heights and Southgate. “I like the idea to regulate it like alcohol.”
Prior to being elected to the Michigan House of Representatives, Liberati served as the president of the Allen Park Board of Education for seven years.
He said the idea is not that simple and depending on how the proposal is written, he likely will vote against it.
”I also believe there is medicinal value in marijuana,” he said.
However, because of the way laws are worded and because he is against taxing medication he voted no on many of the medicinal marijuana laws.
“I was one of 11 no votes on that,” Liberati said. “I support it all but the excise tax.”
He said he’s against taxing medicine that is prescribed by a doctor in any form, and because of that he hasn’t supported current laws and won’t support any new laws that don’t address that issue.
“From my understanding, a lot of those (medical) regulations will be transferred over,” he said. “No medicine that I know of is taxed. Motrin can be bought over the counter and is taxed, but when a higher dose is used as a medicine it’s tax free. Marijuana should be done that way too.”
State Rep. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe) said he hasn’t given it much thought until the petition is formally approved. He is the only member of the Republican Party to represent any portion of Downriver. His district is mostly in Monroe County, but also includes Rockwood, Gibraltar and Flat Rock.
“At this point, the petition seeking to legalize the recreational use of marijuana has not been submitted to the state,” Bellino said. “The signatures have not been vetted and I have not had an opportunity to review the petition language. As always, I will continue to seek input from my constituents as this issue continues to be reviewed.”
Bellino, a self-professed recovering addict, recently voted to fund a pilot program in Kalamazoo to help with the much-publicized national opioid crisis.
“As a recovering drug and alcohol addict, I can personally attest to the undeniable grip that opioids and other drugs intended to ease pain can have on a person,” Bellino said. “If we can use medical technology to identify which people are more susceptible to addiction, we can proactively prevent them from becoming dependent on the drug and its effects.”
Coalition spokesman Josh Hovey said the group has about 100,000 extra signatures, so getting the petition approved shouldn’t be an issue.
State Rep. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) said the issue has many sides, and it’s not just about legalizing the drug for recreational use.
“I have not seen the final language that was approved,” she said. “In general, I have many concerns about legalizing it recreationally, especially in terms of how it affects employees.”
She said if an employer has a zero-tolerance policy, yet the drug is legal in the state it may cause confusion among workers on whether they can use it, and ultimately could cost people their jobs.
Geiss also said she is concerned about how tests could be done to prove if someone was impaired or not.
“Unlike alcohol, marijuana is stored in fat cells and can’t be determined when it was last used based on current testing,” she said.
She was referring to whether it was in a person’s system from recent use, or if it had been days since the last use. Current tests can’t determine the difference.
State Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Twp.) said he will support it because of the increased revenue streams it presents.
“Through legalization and regulation, we have an opportunity to raise significant revenue to help pay for state services, like repairs to our roads and bridges,” he said. “I look forward to the ongoing conversation as it continues into 2018.”
Other than the possible revenue streams created, Camilleri said he’s seen polls that show a “growing number” of Michiganders support the proposal or something like it.
“I’m supportive of this initiative and others like it that give voters the opportunity to weigh in and have greater influence in the legislative process,” he said.
Once formally approved, the potential legislation will go to both the state House and the state Senate for a vote. If both bodies approve it without changes, it would become law. If one or both bodies make any changes and then vote to pass it, the bill would require Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature, and the original proposal would then become a ballot initiative to go before voters.
Geiss said that while she hasn’t fully reviewed the proposed legislation in its current form, even if it passed like the medical marijuana laws in 2011, state lawmakers would still be forced to weigh in after the fact.
The medical marijuana law was approved through a statewide vote, but lacked regulations on where it could be sold and who could grow it, buy it and use it.
“Like what we saw with the medical marijuana that passed, the Legislature still had to go back and create corrective legislation for it,” Geiss said. “The Legislature would still have to impose some types of rules around it. We’ll have to work with all of the various stakeholders to make it work.”
Unless approved by the Legislature, the proposal likely will be on November 2018 statewide ballots, along with the election of the next state governor.
The proposed language would allow anyone 21 or older to legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana or up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrate. The sale up to the same amount also would be legalized, and people would also be allowed to grow up to 12 plants in their residences for personal use.
If passed, cities and townships would be permitted to ban marijuana retailers and similar businesses within their boundaries. Much like alcohol, driving under the influence would be illegal. Public consumption also would be illegal under the proposed law.
State Reps. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), Jewell Jones (D-Inkster), Cara Clemente (D-Lincoln Park) and Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn) did not respond to requests for comment on this report.