Best Bet For Next State to Legalize Weed? Michigan

Photo by Nico Escondido

So far, marijuana legalization in America has followed a familiar formula.

Find a well-organized national group with experience running campaigns—successful campaigns, preferably. Start early. And raise money. Lots and lots of money, because the road to legal marijuana is littered with the wreckage of failed efforts that tried to rely on volunteers, social media or any other substitute for cash, the lifeblood of all modern-day political campaigns.

For these reasons, the chances for voters in Michigan to legalize marijuana at the 2018 ballot is already looking promising, despite the early date.

As the Detroit Free Press is reporting, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol—which held its kickoff rally at the state Capitol in Lansing on Monday—has all of that: money, a track record and a plan. But mostly money.

Everywhere cannabis is legal in America, it’s come via voter initiative. As much as $10 million will be needed to pay signature-gatherers to collect 252,523 valid signatures from registered voters in order to put the measure on the ballot and then run a successful campaign, the paper estimated. And the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) believes it’s good for that.

The MPP is one on a very short list of major nationwide drug-reform groups involved with the legalization efforts in the eight states to allow adults to consume, grow, and buy and sell the drug.

The Marijuana Policy Project was the main player in a majority of state marijuana legalization drives, starting in Colorado in 2012. The MPP was behind the successful legalization efforts in Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada, and was also the driving force in Arizona, the lone state where legalization lost at the ballot in November.

In other states, such as Washington and California, organizations like the George Soros-funded (not that that’s a bad thing!) Drug Policy Alliance took the lead. (California also had significant financial backing from Sean Parker, the early Facebook investor and all-around Silicon Valley billionaire with political leanings.) All this to say that cannabis advocates now have a well-funded national group with a track record of success in their corner.

Other efforts in Michigan have failed for want of money and signatures.

MiLegalize, attempted to qualify the issue for the November 2016 ballot—without the requisite national help—and failed to collect the necessary number of signatures within the 180-day time frame.

To avoid a redux of that, in the next few weeks, the campaign will start collecting signatures.

“We’re right on the precipice of being ready to launch this thing,” said Jeff Irwin, a former state representative from progressive Ann Arbor and the current political director for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. “It’s going to be very, very soon.”

The initiative is still in draft form, but as it stands now, adults 21 and over in Michigan would be able to possess 2.5 ounces of cannabis. There would be three classes of growers, capped at 100 plants, 500 plants and 2,000 plants, respectively. (Other states, like California, have left such details up to state lawmakers.) Cannabis would be subject to a $20-per-dry-ounce tax, as well as six percent state sales tax, and local communities would be able to opt-out and ban weed businesses.

Organizers say that legalization could raise $100 million in tax revenue.

Right on cue, the typical baseless nonsense is coming from the usual suspects. A representative from the state Sheriff’s Association believes that legalization will cause crime (that would be a first).

Just how good of a shot marijuana legalization has at winning is revealed by who’s not opposing it.

From the Free Press:

One person who’s not jumping into the fight is state Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Midland Republican and possible candidate for governor in 2018.

“It’s up to the voters to decide,” said Schuette’s spokeswoman, Andrea Bitely. “We need to keep drugs out of the hands of children, but the voters in Michigan should decide the issue.”

Keep in mind this is the same Bill Schuette who led the (failed) fight against Michigan’s medical-marijuana ballot initiative in 2008, and the same Bill Schuette who has empowered anti-marijuana police in Michigan to the extent that SWAT-style raids on cannabis dispensaries are not only tolerated, but encouraged.

So interested was Schuette in what the voters decided that he went to the state Court of Appeals in an (also failed) effort to have medical cannabis struck down by a judge. Since we’re keeping score, Schuette also (unsuccessfully) fought against same-sex marriage, views that have had him labeled a “demagogue” by one of the deans of Michigan’s political press.

As usual, values take a backseat to ambition.

In this case, at least, it’ll work to Michigan’s advantage—as long as legalization wins and Schuette doesn’t. So far, half of that equation is looking good.

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