The ballot language of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act (“MRTMA”) was approved by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers on May 18, 2017. Although you wouldn’t know it from the name, this proposal would legalize and regulate the adult use in Michigan of marijuana for non-medical purposes. The sponsor of the ballot initiative, The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, now must gather the signatures of 252,523 Michigan voters to get the initiative before voters in the November 2018 election. Whether those voters will approve of MRTMA and make it law will depend on a variety of factors, some of which we know, and some of which will develop over the next 18 months.
Will a sufficient number of voters sign the petition to get it on the ballot?
Probably yes. Last year the MILegalize group succeeded in gathering well more than the minimum number of petition signatures to get their initiative on the 2016 ballot. However, they failed to get those signatures within the 180 day time period that was ultimately deemed to be applicable to that effort. This new ballot initiative is a well-organized and well-funded undertaking, and the sponsors clearly know the applicable timeframe, so they will have the resources and skills to get the required number of signatures within the 180 day time period.
Will a majority of Michigan voters approve of such a measure if it’s on the ballot?
This is where things get tricky and complicated. Tricky, because voters can be fickle, and opponents of marijuana legalization will be developing their strategies to convince voters that adopting this ballot proposal is a bad idea. And complicated because there will be many different reasons why voters may choose to not support the proposal. In fact, there may be marijuana legalization activists who will vote against this proposal because it doesn’t go far enough or provide broad enough protection. It happened in California in 2010.
MRTMA is the work product of a 13 person drafting committee comprised of national marijuana legalization experts, national marketing and polling strategists, Michigan marijuana lawyers (both defense and business), Michigan legalization activists, lobbyists, and Michigan industry participants who are experienced under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. I am proud to have been one of the members of the drafting committee. While this group shared a broad general commitment to the repeal of state marijuana prohibition, there were as many different approaches and “hot buttons” as there were participants. The finished product is the result of analysis, polling, reasoned argument and compromise. No one likely thinks it’s a perfect initiative — but I believe that all think that it’s a good compromise. The drafting committee adopted the old adage to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
How will the proposal affect the implementation of the MMFLA?
But that’s where the complications of voter approval will get really sticky. Opponents now have almost 18 months to hammer their particular objection to the proposal and disseminate their message to voters. Examples will include the existence of restrictions on who can get a license, and whether those restrictions are too broad or too narrow. How will this proposal if adopted affect the implementation of the MMFLA? Will law enforcement support regulation and licensing, or will they argue that many growers will skirt the regulations and continue the black market? Will the Michigan legislature enter the fray and try to pass its own legalization, tax and regulation proposal, perhaps to create two separate proposals and maybe confuse voters into voting against both?
We believe the question of the legalization of adult recreational marijuana is when, not if. Michigan seems to have the polling data to support MRTMA, but “there’s many a slip between cup and lip.” Different constituents may play a role in the process including business entrepreneurs, lawyers, patients, activists and advocates, law enforcement agencies, governmental authorities, and others. Strange bedfellows may emerge, and alliances will form or crumble. Ultimately, it will probably result in the complete repeal of prohibition, maybe through the voter’s adoption of MRTMA.