By Chastity Pratt Dawsey, Alexandra Schmidt // Bridge Magazine // November 6, 2018
Michigan has become the first state in the Midwest to approve recreational use of marijuana, capping a years-long debate here over legalization.
Ballot Proposal 1, which legalizes the use and sale for adults 21 and older, was headed for victory, along with measures to appoint a nonpartisan commission to draw political districts and implement same-day voter registration.
Michigan joins nine other states and Washington, D.C. in permitting some form of recreational cannabis. Medical marijuana is legal in 31 states, including Missouri, whose voters approved an initiative for its use Tuesday night.
The ballot measure comes 10 years after Michigan voters approved the use of medical marijuana.
Here’s 11 questions and answers explaining what you need to know about the new law:
When does the law take effect?
About a month.
Michigan’s Constitution states that approved initiatives “take effect 10 days after the date of the official declaration of the vote.” That doesn’t happen until the election is certified by the Board of State Canvassers, a process that usually takes about three weeks, said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for Michigan’s Department of State.
Who can use marijuana?
You must be at least 21 years old to get or ingest cannabis in any form. Those under the age of 21 are not permitted to possess, consume, or sell marijuana products.
Once it takes effect, what can I do?
The law allows users to carry 2.5 ounces in public and at home have up to 10 ounces and 12 plants, as long as they are not grown in a location visible from outside.
What can’t I do?
Smoke in public. Or drive under the influence. That’s still illegal.
“The law is very clear on that,” said state Sen. Rick Jones, who sponsored a bill to pilot a new roadside saliva test for marijuana detection.
“It’s what they call zero tolerance. You may not have marijuana in your system driving.”
Possession is also illegal at K-12 schools or lands owned by the federal government, such as national forests or parks. And while individual users can grow plants, they can’t sell them. Sales of any cannabis product requires state licensing and testing before it hits the market.
Will police stop enforcing pot possession laws before it takes effect?
Marijuana is still illegal until the law goes into effect, so there’s a one-month window when users can still get arrested for pot in a state that voted to legalize it. Police likely will use discretion, experts say.
“I think it will depend on the seriousness – does a person have baggie in the trunk or a baggie in their pocket and appear to be driving impaired,” said Eric Lupher, president of the Citizens Research Council, a nonprofit public affairs research organization.
Can I run to the store to buy a joint and smoke it next month?
Personal possession and growth is legal as soon as the law takes effect, so sparking up isn’t an issue, said Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which led the initiative.
The trick could be buying marijuana legally in the first place.
Michigan’s state and local governments must establish regulations before products hit the shelves. That will take about two years, as the initiative gives the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs 24 months to create and start distributing licenses. LARA spokesman David Harns told Bridge “we anticipate waiting until the election results are certified [by the Board of State Canvassers] to discuss the particulars.”
“LARA is going to have its hands full,” predicted Randy Richardville, the spokesman for Healthy and Productive Michigan, the major group that opposed Proposal 1.
That’s one government hurdle. Another is cities.
“To ban businesses entirely, communities will need to adopt a local ordinance or pass a referendum.” Hovey told Bridge. “But communities also have their local zoning and business laws to restrict or regulate marijuana businesses.”
Local governments can also place a limit on the number of businesses they allow instead of banning it outright.
Officials of Michigan’s big cities may not move quickly to get business rolling. Grand Rapids’ City Commission approved medical marijuana businesses this year, but has yet to begin accepting license applications. Suzanne Schulz of Grand Rapids’ City Planning Commission says the commissioners have not had any discussions about recreational marijuana.
City officials in Lansing in Detroit either didn’t respond or didn’t speculate on timelines when contacted by Bridge. In the meantime, as governments create regulations, medical pot dispensaries still will only be able to be frequented by those with medical marijuana cards.
Wait. Isn’t marijuana still illegal under federal law?
Yes it is, so you keep your bud out of national parks and off of federal land. And many legal experts say landlords still can ban tenants from using marijuana even in states that legalized it.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a hardline stance against legalization and called on “all U.S. attorneys to enforce the laws enacted by Congress.” But that’s largely gone unenforced, and The Wall Street Journal reported “Mr. Sessions’ own prosecutors have yet to bring federal charges against pot businesses that are abiding by state law.”
The issue is far more complicated for business owners. In many states, because of bank regulations, marijuana remains a largely cash-only business, while there are serious tax implications because of the federal prohibition.
Are prior marijuana convictions impacted by the new legal status of the drug?
No, the law only impacts use going forward. The new legislation does not expunge prior convictions for marijuana crimes or commute sentences.
Can I still get fired for using marijuana?
Some industries, such as federal contractors or transportation workers, will still be required by the federal government to test for marijuana and fire users. Otherwise, drug tests are up to individual companies. State business leaders have indicated they will continue to penalize workers for negative drug tests to ensure workplace safety.
How likely is a lawsuit to block implementation?
Very, if the experience from other states is replicated in Michigan.
“I don’t know who would be involved, but is this going to cause a lot of litigation? Yes,” said Richardville, the Healthy and Productive Michigan spokesman.
He said his group so far has no plans to file suits.
Would the state be able to delay implementation?
Not really. Unlike the state’s 2008 medical marijuana law, which encountered numerous delays, the new recreational marijuana law sets a timeline for licensing commercial enterprises.
State regulators, however, must address some lingering issues. For instance, the state is required to set rules for edible products’ maximum levels of THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana.
“I think some of us would be very adamant that LARA needs to take a real hard look at the 6,000 words (in the law) and see what they can regulate,” said Richardville.
The Legislature could theoretically pass a law to impact the measure, but doing so would require approval from a three-fourths of the Legislature, which is a tall task.