Michigan Cannabis: A Battle to the Ballot

Michigan was the first Midwestern state to legalize medical cannabis in 2008, and it has a good chance to be the first to legalize recreational cannabis in 2016. Right now there are two separate legalization campaigns underway in Michigan—the Michigan Cannabis Coalition (“MCC”) and the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee (or “MILegalize”).

How are they similar?

Both initiatives are trying to do the same thing in the same way: legalize recreational cannabis through voter-initiated legislation.

i love michigan with marijuana symbolProcedurally, the Michigan initiatives are more like Oregon’s Measure 91 and Washington’s i-502 than Colorado’s Amendment 64 in that the two proposals seek to directly enact legislation, rather than amend Michigan’s constitution. Substantively, both initiatives legalize cannabis cultivation, possession, and consumption for people aged 21 and over, permit home cultivation, and authorize taxing the commercial sale of cannabis. Neither would alter the state’s existing medical program and both earmark tax revenues for certain purposes.

How do they differ?

Though both initiatives purport to achieve the same goal, when you drill down into their details there are more differences than similarities.

The most important difference centers on the issue of state versus local control.  The MCC would create a five-member, Governor-appointed Michigan Cannabis Control Board to regulate and license commercial cannabis businesses, whereas the MILegalize’s proposal calls for local governmental bodies to license and regulate cannabis.

The two initiatives would tax cannabis commerce differently: MCC grants the state legislature authority to set cannabis tax rates while MILegalize establishes an excise tax capped at 10 percent. The MCC establishes only vague parameters for how cannabis tax revenues must be spent, whereas MILegalize specifically earmarks a 40/40/20 split between the Michigan Department of Transportation, the School Aid Fund, and the local municipality in which the taxable activity occurs.

Their restrictions on home cultivation also differ, with MCC allowing up to two flowering plants per home (or four if permitted by local ordinance) and MILegalize allowing up to twelve. Both address driving under the influence of cannabis, but with varying specificity. MILegalize prohibits the state from establishing per se impairment limits. MCC basically just reiterates that its measure does not allow impaired driving, without restricting or defining impairment.

Which proposal is better?

There are good aspects to both initiatives, and either would be a big improvement over Michigan’s current “program.”

Perhaps the biggest issue is local control. Allowing for city or counties to opt out can be really messy. Additionally, allowing various municipalities to establish their own licensing and regulatory apparatuses is a nightmare from a compliance perspective, especially for companies that want to operate throughout the entire state. Under MILegalize’s proposal, Michigan would essentially become a microcosm of the national patchwork of cannabis laws.

Yet the MCC initiative granting the state more power has its own issues. Republicans control the Governor’s office and both chambers of the legislature, so some are weary of giving state lawmakers too much discretion for fear that they will drag their feet or even try to torpedo the program altogether.

Where are they now and what happens next?

Both initiatives have received the go-ahead this summer from the Board of State Canvassers to collect voter signatures, and people are out pounding the pavement to gather voter support.

Each initiative must gather at least 252,523 signatures to go to the Michigan State Legislature for a vote on whether to be passed into law. The expectation is that the legislature will reject both initiatives, at which point one or both will be placed on the ballot for voters to decide. Voters can choose to vote for either, both, or neither initiatives.

There is a real possibility that Michigan voters will see two legalization initiatives on the same ballot, which would be a first in the nation. If both receive more than a simple majority vote, the initiative receiving the higher number of total votes will prevail over the other. The fear is that having two initiatives on the same ballot will cannibalize voter support and split the cannabis vote, causing both measures to fail.

We will continue to keep you updated on Michigan’s legalization efforts.