Michigan’s Legalization Efforts Have an Unlikely Champion: Republicans

Michigan Republicans are surprising their constituents and rivals by supporting marijuana legalization.
Michigan's Legalization Efforts Have an Unlikely Champion: Republicans

Some Michigan Republicans seem to be hoping to curb voter turnout in their favor by legalizing marijuana before it has the chance to appear on the state’s November ballot.

The Republican-dominated state Legislature has until June 5 to decide whether to pass the measure, which would not require the governor’s signature. If legal weed moves forward without a public vote, it would also be easier to amend without voter input.

Matthew Abel, executive director of Michigan NORML and attorney at Detroit-based Cannabis Counsel, P.L.C. says his group supports legalization, and the sooner the better.

“While we think it unlikely that the Legislature will adopt the ballot proposal, we are open to that possibility,” Abel said. “People still are being arrested daily. Some people think it would not bode well for the legislature to pass it rather than it pass by the voters, because then they only would need a simple majority to amend it, rather than 3/4 support if it passes at election.”

However, Abel added that it will likely be difficult for Legislators to reach an agreement in a lame-duck session to make serious changes. Michigan’s Republican governor is term-limited, and many state rep and senate seats are up for grabs, with a good chance of a power shift taking place, turning the state back to blue.

If Republican intention to legalize seems dubious, there’s certainly plenty of history to back up the shade. Michigan first legalized medical marijuana in 2008 in a Democratic sweep election, and since then, dispensaries, growers, caregivers, and patients have had anxiety over the logistics of when and if medical marijuana in Michigan would ever come to a close.

Various cities across the state have decriminalized the possession of less than one ounce of cannabis by a person 21 or older, including Detroit in 2012. Though in 2013, the state Supreme Court ruled that dispensaries could be subject to regular legality checks and shut down for being a public nuisance.

Roundabout 2014, Detroit exploded with dispensaries. 8 Mile Road became alive with bright green crosses, woven among the fast food joints, abandoned storefronts, and strip clubs. Entrepreneurs took advantage of this change in an area that’s been economically depressed for decades. At one point, the city itself (which has about 700,000 people) had more than 250 medical marijuana dispensaries in operation, and at the same time had but three functioning supermarkets.

Unfortunately for weed lovers around Detroit, the past two years have seen all dispensaries investigated and the majority found to be operating illegally – leaving only about 62 active, of which many are facing investigation. At least one was reported to have offered $20,000 a month to policy enforcers in order to stay in business: A lucrative business for a city which had an estimated unofficial unemployment rate of 50 percent in 2010.

Though the number of dispensaries statewide has dropped to about 215, recent polls show that the majority of citizens back legalization.

Regardless, go vote.

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