Despite the uphill battle it’s been for cannabis legalization in Michigan, good news looms on the not-so-distant horizon. Not only does it look promising that the petitions currently circulating will generate more than enough signatures for the proposal to make recreational cannabis legal, Michigan residents also might have the privilege to possess larger quantities of it than any other state.
What’s Normal in Other States?
In the United States, there are 8 states in which cannabis is legal for recreational use. The normal amount individuals are allowed to carry is 1 ounce. According to Mark Kleiman, a professor at NYU and expert on public policy in regards to cannabis, the cap of 1 ounce is sufficient. Michigan, however, would join the likes of Maine, where individuals are allowed to carry up to 2.5 ounces on their person.
The other way in which Michigan will stand out is that persons 21 and over will also be able to have up to 10 ounces of cannabis at home. While this is also true in Massachusetts, the limit for the amount of cannabis individuals can carry there is only 1 ounce.
Defending the seemingly large quantity of cannabis that Michigan residents would be allowed to carry, Josh Hovey, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, stated there are legitimate reasons behind it. For example, a commonality many Michiganders have is travel within the state. For those who have cabins or other properties where they will spend lengths of time for hunting or recreation, it seems fair to Hovey that those individuals should be able to carry an amount of cannabis that will sustain them.
Still, there are other opponents. Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that advocates against cannabis, strongly opposes the amount that Michigan residents could carry. Executive VP and director of government relations for the group, Jeffrey Zinsmeister, contends that there’s no good reason anyone would need to carry 2.5 ounces of cannabis for personal use. The amount, he argues, is excessive.
Standing Strong Against Opposition
Despite criticism, Hovey insists that all components of the law were heavily considered, taking into account the input from those who would be involved in Michigan’s cannabis industry. From stakeholders in the cannabis business, organizations involved in the movement, and Michigan voters, Hovey is confident that their input, combined with observing the best practices from other states with legal cannabis, has yielded an initiative that stands a strong chance of becoming law.
Backing up his confidence is the swift rate at which the petition to legalize cannabis in Michigan is acquiring signatures. Having nearly reached the halfway mark of the required amount of signatures needed to get on the 2018 ballot in just two months, the odds of legalization look promising. Registered voters still have almost 4 months left to sign the petition if they haven’t already. At this point, the momentum is still building so it will almost certainly be in the affirmative that voters will approve the legislation being presented.
In Washington, Sam Mendez, an attorney with C3 Law Group (specializing in cannabis law), supports the notion that legalization leads to fewer arrests, lifting a weight off law enforcement. He also points out that other substances that are more dangerous than cannabis, such as alcohol, have no limits regarding how much an individual can possess. Needless to say, his statements fall in line with supporting the limits established in the initiative that Hovey is certain will attain the approval of voters.
Even though on the federal level cannabis remains illegal and the DEA classifies it a schedule 1 drug, if Michigan votes to legalize cannabis, they will join the ranks of states taking a stand against prohibition, furthering the national legalization movement.
There is one age-old adage that is as important as ever when it comes to the expanding legality of cannabis in the United States: follow the money. With Colorado recently announcing $500 million in tax revenue from medical and recreational cannabis since 2014, the pioneering state continues to showcase the substantial upside for state governments often short on public funding. As Colorado spreads out the cannabis revenue to assist adoption centers, youth programs and more, the rest of the country is now able to see a real-world blueprint of how cannabis legalization can benefit a state’s public welfare and budgetary outlook, further depleting the case for the continued prohibition of marijuana.
Although the tax revenue issue has long been a driving force for legalization, the announcement made by lobbying firm VS Strategies is still nothing short of a major step forward for cannabis advocates. More than anything, it demonstrates that the potential of cannabis revenue is no longer theoretical, prompting Strategies VS Strategies partner Brian Vincente to point out that “Colorado continues to be an example for the world” when it comes to the upside of cannabis. While many other states have been on the fence about legalization for some time now, Colorado appears to be significantly reaping the benefits for taking the plunge as other states preferred a wait-and-see approach.
The impact on the budget has also been nothing short of profound according to Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat lawmaker who appeared with Vincente at the press conference to make the announcement. To Singer, “marijuana has become the thread that holds our state budget together,” offering insight into the enormous amount of relief the revenue has brought to the otherwise extremely tight state budget.
While some detractors have pointed out that cannabis revenue won’t solely solve the state’s long-term budget challenges, the immediate impact of the revenue has been very significant, particularly on the local level. One of the biggest benefactors of the revenue, the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program, has already taken in about $3 million and has committed hundreds of thousands in grants to Aurora-based non-profit Adoption Exchange. Other funds are already being disseminated to school construction projects, substance abuse programs and youth mentoring services, further undercutting critics who insist the negatives of legalization outweigh the public benefit.
The amount of tax revenue from cannabis also continues to increase as the industry gets more and more established throughout the state. In 2014, roughly $76 million in revenue was taken in from cannabis, although that number has since grown to more than $200 million in 2016. By the end of 2017, yearly revenues are expected to surpass a quarter of a billion dollars, demonstrating that the money is pouring in every bit as fast as Colorado lawmakers might have hoped when pressing for legalization.
The announcement also comes at a crucial time when other states are getting ready for their own legalization pushes during upcoming elections. A diverse set of large states, including Florida, Michigan and Arizona, are already planning on putting legalization of recreational cannabis on the ballot for the 2018 mid-terms, with other states also expected to join as well. For fiscally troubled states that are still undecided about whether to move forward with legalization, Colorado’s robust showcase of cannabis tax revenue will only fuel the claims that supporting marijuana reform is becoming a budgetary imperative.
As Colorado pushes forward along with other early-adoption states like Washington, Alaska and Oregon, the raw numbers continue to undermine the opaque arguments of detractors like Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who claims Colorado loses $3.3 billion annually due to lowered productivity since cannabis legalization. While Sabet and other cannabis critics continue to utilize ambiguous and theoretical stats, the case for cannabis legalization continues to strengthen as the cut-and-dry budgetary impacts of cannabis tax revenue come into focus. Although each state will face its own challenges when it comes to implementing regulations and taxing standards for cannabis, Colorado is proving to be an essential trendsetter that will only embolden cannabis advocates to attempt to duplicate the success of the Centennial State.
After the let down of 2016, when the proposal to legalize recreational cannabis in Michigan failed to make it on the ballot, the petition drive this time around is off to a strong start. Organized and ready to work hard, people are coming together to get a proposal on the ballot in 2018.
Already Over 100,000 Signatures
In under seven weeks, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is more than thrilled to report having already collected over 100,000 signatures. Needing only 252,523 valid signatures to get their proposal on the ballot in November 2018, they are well on their way to achieving their goal. When the ballot wording was approved, 180 days were allotted to circulate petitions and collect signatures. With a deadline of November 22, 2017, the chances of a proposal making the ballot are more than promising.
When the announcement was made in May 2017 that the wording of their ballot proposal was approved, Josh Hovey, a spokesperson for the group, announced: “We’ve got petitions printed. We’re ready to go.” The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol was clearly ready for the next step. Certain they will obtain far more signatures than are required, they hope to turn in a completed petition in October 2017, one full month before the deadline.
Collecting more than enough signatures is key for the group. With the last go-around, an unforeseen circumstance arose in the form of new legislation, limiting the period of time for signature collecting to 180 days. Governor Snyder’s decision dealt a defeating blow to MI Legalize, who’d already collected enough signatures to get their proposal on the ballot. Unfortunately, with the new law taking immediate effect, only about half of the signatures they’d collected counted. Left without time or the signatures they needed, MI Legalize’s efforts didn’t pay off.
Their other concern in regards to collecting signatures is how many of them won’t count; if handwriting is illegible or information provided doesn’t match voter regz vcistration information, the signatures aren’t considered valid.
If the Proposal Makes the Ballot
The Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act is the second attempt in just a couple of years to legalize recreational cannabis in Michigan. If successful, persons 21 and over will be allowed to possess, use, cultivate, and sell recreational cannabis.
The intention behind the act is simple: stop arrests related to cannabis use, make commercial production and distribution legal, and use the tax money generated from sales for the better good. In Michigan, there’s no telling where the tax money would be most beneficially used. With crumbling roads and a police force uncertain of their pensions, the money generated by taxing cannabis sales could provide much-needed relief.
Despite opposition from the group Keep Pot out of Neighborhoods and Schools, the language of the petition was unanimously approved 4-0 by the State Board of Canvassers. Gary Gordon, the attorney who represents the group, said he doesn’t feel the language of the proposal is clear and that the wording is contradictory in regards to who will and who won’t be taxed. In particular, he takes issue with the fact that individuals 21 and over would be allowed to grow up to 12 plants for personal use without being taxed. Compared to the enormous impact the cannabis industry would have on the economy and the tax revenue it would generate, there is little ground for them to stand on.
Four Months and Counting
With the summer months in Michigan more than ideal for spending time outdoors, those collecting signatures are taking full advantage of festivities and events where large numbers of people will undeniably yield support for the proposal. As of March 2016, Michigan already had over 180,000 people registered to use cannabis medicinally. Consider, then, the number of registered caregivers, friends, family members, and recreational cannabis users unaccounted for who will no doubt be signing this petition as it makes its way across the state. With four months left to gather signatures and 100,000 already collected in under two months, the proposal looks so far to stand an excellent shot at making it on the ballot in 2018 and allowing voters to finally have their say on the matter.
As a recent adopter of legal medical and recreational cannabis, it’s no surprise that Canada has a few things to say about the growing cannabis culture. One of their most recent informational releases consists of a list of ten guidelines to safely enjoy your cannabis related activities. Always courteous, Canada wants to make sure nobody overdoes their usage or has a bad time. They feel that providing this list of cannabis precautions is similar to other guidelines about how to drink alcohol safely, and have thoughtfully provided the results of their cannabis safety research as a colorful brochure. If you are worried about going too far with your THC treats, take a page from Canada’s book on conservative enjoyment:
1. Cannabis use has health risks best avoided by abstaining
While this is true of essentially anything with direct or peripheral risks, this first rule puts the rest of the guidelines into perspective. There are a few risks associated with cannabis use and complete avoidance of THC and CBD in all its forms would keep you safe from them.
2. Delay taking up cannabis use until later in life
The second guideline is targeted to help teens understand the dangers of cannabis use. Young brains are not done developing and anyone who is not an adult should avoid taking anything psychoactive, prescription meds included. Canada researchers have found that anyone under the age of 16 can expose themselves to developmental risks. Cannabis may be one of the gentlest of the recreational drugs available, but it still has significant effects on brain development so hold off until you’re legal age. The age limits were put in place for a reason.
3. Identify and choose lower-risk cannabis products
Canada has defined THC has having a high risk of potential harms which include problems with thinking, memory, coordination, and perception, along with respiratory problems from smoking and injuries caused by impairment. They also list hallucinations and reproductive problems, but these issues are much less common. Canada recommends that you stick with low THC products and high CBD to THC ratios to reduce risk of harms.
4. Don’t use synthetic cannabinoids
What they call synthetic cannabinoids (K2 and ‘Spice’) are harmful chemicals that are much worse for you than anything normal cannabis leaf, edibles, or concentrates could cause. Canada says that they can lead to severe health problems and death, so stay away.
5. Avoid smoking burnt cannabis—choose safer ways of using
Smoking is bad for you in any form. You could be smoking chamomile and it would be bad for you. Unfortunately for bud gourmets, this means that a healthy cannabis lifestyle will involve leaving behind joints and pipes for concentrates and vaporizer pens.
6. If you smoke cannabis, avoid harmful smoking practices
Canada enumerates ‘harmful smoking practices’ as deep inhalation and breath-holding. What they are saying here is that if you hold your hits, you absorb more THC. You will get a stronger effect from THC by holding it in your lungs to increase absorption, which naturally increases the risks associated with intoxication. You also don’t want to do this while smoking because it will increase the time harsh smoke is damaging your lungs and bronchial passageway
7. Limit and reduce how often you use cannabis
Not everyone can ‘hold their smoke’ and daily use can be a sign of someone who has entered a harmful personal cycle with cannabis, as with any substance that interacts with the brain. If you find yourself losing track of time without meaning to, Canada suggests limiting your cannabis activities to weekends only.
8. Don’t use and drive, or operate other machinery
Cannabis can make you clumsy, so apply the same caution as you would with powerful cough syrup. Don’t drive or operate heavy machinery because even small mistakes can become fatal. In the detail text, Canada researchers make an especially important point: do not combine cannabis with alcohol unless you want to become seriously impaired. The ‘complementary’ effect can create intense disorientation. In this state, you probably don’t even want to operate your phone, much less a car.
9. Avoid cannabis use altogether if you are at risk for mental health problems or are pregnant
Some people are more at risk of negative effects than others. Unstable people have a harder time with any psychoactive substance and should be careful about exposure. Pregnant women, no matter how mentally stable, should stay away from cannabis just as they shouldn’t drink. Substances that affect the brain are dangerous for a growing fetus.
10. Avoid combining the risks identified above
The researchers for the Canadian brochure have been very thorough covering their bases and the final point is a useful and strongly worded reminder. The more risky cannabis based behaviors your take on, the more likely you are to find yourself in a rare situation in which cannabis has caused you trouble.
While the advice in this brochure may seem unusually cautious to the experienced cannabis user, consider all the young people and new adopters who are just starting to find out about their personal tolerances and the right habits to form while enjoying leaf, edibles, or concentrates. For the culture to grow happily, it’s important that new members of the cannabis community enter carefully and have a good time. This brochure will at the very least help people not to hurt themselves doing too much, too fast. Canada helpfully advises self control and a reasonable amount of caution, offering a valuable resource to cannabis users.
Adding another wrinkle to slew of police encounters that have dominated national headlines, the smell of marijuana coming from the car of Philando Castile appears to have directly contributed to his fatal shooting in St. Anthony, Minnesota last July. While the recently released video has been widely circulated, the testimony of the officer who shot Castile, Jeronimo Yarnez, offers us even more insight into the tragic death and points to a country that is still coming to grips with the facts and stereotypes of cannabis. As Castile’s family, friends and supporters look for answers, Castile’s untimely death also shows an even greater need for cannabis law reform, particularly within minority communities ravaged by an unequal enforcement of the law.
Although it’s impossible to know just what would have transpired if Castile’s car did not contain the smell of marijuana, we know from Yarnez himself that the presence of marijuana was a significant factor in the tragedy. In his own words, Yarnez stated that “if he (Castile) has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her second-hand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me?” For Yarnez, the mere presence of marijuana – regardless of whether it was Castile who was using – was enough to fear for his life, ultimately leading to Yarnez pumping seven shots into Castile’s car.
While the facts are stunning on the surface, they become even more troublesome when considering that cannabis possession is only a misdemeanor in Minnesota for small amounts (under 42.5 grams) and carries a maximum fine of just $200. Yarnez’s interpretation of the situation also brings about a slew of significant concerns, including the summary judgement that Castile was actively using cannabis in front of his daughter – a claim that Yarnez was not in a position to make without a field sobriety test. Even if Yarnez was correct on Castile’s usage of marijuana, however, the use of lethal force for a minor violation is likely to bring about a slew of lawsuits from Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and other parties close to Castile.
Racial disparity in marijuana arrests
(Philando Castile (Star Tribune photo)
The Castile tragedy also adds to the ongoing debate on social justice, especially given the alarming rate at which African-Americans are arrested for cannabis. According to the ACLU, black Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana, pointing to a demonstrable bias that continues to wreak havoc in communities of color. Given Yarnez’s own views and judgments on marijuana usage, it appears extremely likely that his bias laid the groundwork for the decision to open fire and ultimately prematurely end the life of Castile. For those advocating the end of the often criticized prohibition on cannabis, Castile’s death brings about a fresh outrage given the role that marijuana played in the shooting.
Castile’s case is far from the only example of law enforcement officials failing to understand the effects of cannabis when facing an altercation. Also in summer of 2016, Keith Lamont Scott was confronted by two officers in Charlotte, North Carolina after he was observed smoking marijuana, which ultimately led to a fatal confrontation when the officers saw that he had a gun in a holster on his ankle. Much like the Castile tragedy, officers originally arrived on the scene looking for a different African-American suspect and then cited the “illegal drugs and the gun Mr. Scott had in his possession” as a reason for the quick escalation. Similar to Minnesota, it is a misdemeanor to possess a small amount of marijuana in North Carolina and there is also a max fine of just $200.
Highly publicized altercations like the Castile and Scott shootings point to law enforcement agencies unable to control inherent biases or to correctly address the facts of cannabis consumption. Considering that marijuana is more likely to lead to marked decrease in aggression, there is a pattern of officers viewing potential suspects in ways that contradict the actual effects of the drug. Given the dramatically higher rates of marijuana-based encounters with law enforcement in minority communities, the risks of consuming cannabis are disproportionately based upon race, adding fuel to an already fiery debate about the role of cannabis laws in social justice reform. As fully legalized cannabis becomes more and more of a possibility, overcoming long-held biases by law enforcement officials will remain a crucial obstacle as cannabis and civil rights advocates look to challenge the status quo and improve upon a system that continues to turn deadly.