Is Michigan Preparing For Legalized Marijuana?

Washington, Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia all permit some form of recreational-marijuana use. Nineteen other states, including Michigan, permit marijuana use for medical treatment but not for recreation. Since voters approved the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act in 2008, two key problems have arisen: marijuana dispensaries and edible-marijuana products are still illegal in Michigan.

In an effort to overcome these limitations and to legalize recreational-marijuana use in Michigan, three separate groups are working to place initiatives on the November 2016 election ballot. Read our blog post Will Marijuana Legalization Be On The Michigan 2016 Ballot?

Citizens seeking recreational marijuana legalization in Ohio did successfully place an initiated constitutional amendment on the November 3, 2015 election ballot. Marijuana advocates in Michigan watched the Ohio 2015 election with excitement—success in Ohio could create momentum in the effort to legalize recreational marijuana in Michigan. However, the Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative was defeated with 63.65 percent of voters voting “no.” The Ohio initiative was likely defeated because the proposed amendment limited marijuana production to 10 facilities and operated as a marijuana monopoly for those facilities, which alienated many conservative and libertarian voters. In fact, Ohio voters during the same election approved a separate initiative to prohibit state-created monopolies, which was a collateral attack on the marijuana initiative.

Some members of the Michigan Legislature predict that Michigan will be legalizing recreational-marijuana use at the November 2016 election and are trying to get ahead of that election with legislation now:

  • House Bill 4209 would permit licenses for three different levels of marijuana-production facilities with 500, 1,000, or 1,500 plants; tax marijuana production and sales; and create a medical marijuana licensing board and an advisory panel to oversee production, fees, and taxation.
  • House Bill 4210 would permit use of edible marijuana products for medical treatment. It would still be illegal for a patient to deliver edible marijuana to another and for a caregiver to deliver edible marijuana to anyone other than a designated patient.
  • House Bill 4827 would require Michigan to implement a software system to track marijuana production and sales.

Critics of the Bills have asserted that the regulatory framework in the Bills (1) is unnecessarily complicated, (2) greatly expands government with 151 additional employees required to administer the regulations, and (3) is too expensive with an annual cost of 21 million dollars just for the software-tracking system. Personally, I’m not too surprised that our governor, who made his fortunes in the personal-computer industry, is supportive of a Bill that requires Michigan to invest millions of dollars in marijuana-tracking software—one of his first efforts as governor was legislation involving scanning systems for pricing in retail establishments.

While these Bills currently only apply to persons who are sanctioned to use marijuana for medical treatment, the sponsors of the Bills have admitted that the Bills were drafted with a framework for recreational-marijuana use in mind.

All three of these Bills have been passed by the Michigan House of Representatives with some amendments to the Bills. The Bills are currently being reviewed and debated by the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee, which must approve the Bills before the Senate can vote on them. Whether the Michigan Senate will approve these Bills is uncertain, and similar bills were defeated in the Senate in 2014.

Jeffrey M. Schroder

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