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Ballot proposals: Legalizing recreational marijuana have some people split

Michigan legislators have stalled an attempt to repeal a statute that regulates vehicular transportation of marijuana. (WWMT/MGN Graphics)

Michigan voters are faced with a choice on Election Day that includes legalizing the use of recreational marijuana.

Voters will see the topic as Proposal 1 on their ballots. If passed, Michigan would become the 10th state in the country, plus Washington, D.C. and the first in the Midwest to legalize recreational pot usage.

Backers of Proposal 1, The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, said work began drafting the proposal in early 2017.

“This isn’t an initiative that’s about promoting marijuana use in any way, this is about just recognizing the fact that marijuana prohibition has been a complete failure and we can’t continue wasting our law enforcement resources on a failed law,” said Josh Hovey, spokesperson for the Coalition.

Hovey said most of the 20,000 people who are arrested in Michigan each year are for “petty marijuana possession” and it’s time Michigan gets ride of a law that doesn’t work.

“That’s what we should be focusing our efforts on, the harder drugs that are actually dangerous and hurting our families,” Hovey added. “The simple fact is, if you want to use marijuana, it’s here in Michigan and it’s very easy to obtain.”

Hovey said the group estimates $100 million a year, for the first five years, will be made off tax revenue. There will be the traditional 6 percent sales tax, plus an additional 10 percent excise tax.

“While we’re not going to claim that that’s going to solve all of our road funding problems or solve all of our school funding problems by any means,” Hovey said. “But half a billion dollars over five years is far better than the zero we’re collecting right now.”

According to the ballot language, which was approved by the Board of Canvassers, the sale of marijuana would be prohibited to anyone under the age of 21. Communities also can set their own laws that bar dispensaries from opening in city limits, Hovey added.

If Proposal 1 is legalized, Hovey believes it will bring people into a safer user experience.

“It is a benefit for the state because it encourages people to use the regulated market rather than continue to use the back alleys and black market,” he added.

While Hovey is confident voters will pass the proposal, the group Healthy and Productive Michigan hope it doesn’t. Scott Greenlee, president of the organization, said the proposal is “fundamentally flawed.”

“Michigan shouldn’t be in the business of picking and choosing which laws to enforce,” Greenlee said.

Since recreational marijuana is illegal federally, Greenelee said it would be bad business for Michigan. According to him, more children would be able to get their hands on marijuana, despite ballot language that states otherwise.

“But let’s face it, when you put your common sense hat on, more of it around means more access to children,” he said.

Greenlee said his group believes just because there would be regulations in place for marijuana, that wouldn’t stop people from obtaining illegally.

“The black market doesn’t go away. There are always people that are going to want to sell the product to people under 21 or sell larger quantities of the product,” Greenlee said.

Those who are opposed to recreational use of marijuana, like Greenlee, said the notion that taxing the product will help fund roads and schools is a stretch.

“By the way, that is .0017 percent of the state budget,” Greenlee said referring to the $100 million a year Hovey and the Coalition said will be generated. “Why are we just going with the roads and schools because they are the sexy issues of the day? Why not take a look at what’s really going to be happening and that’s a lot more folks who are going to be on those roads are going to be in danger and are going to need help long term?”

Greenlee would like to see a roadside test introduced for law enforcement to use for suspected drivers under the influence.

“This isn’t the proposal for Michigan,” Greenlee added.

For Hovey and those behind this proposal, now is the time for Michigan to decide.

“Somebody has to do it and step up,” Hovey said.

Regardless if Proposal 1 passes, Michigan’s medical marijuana system would not change. However, medical marijuana patients would be exempt from the 10 percent excise tax, Hovey said. The first businesses are expected to open in 2020, if voters say yes on Proposal 1.

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