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November Elections 2018: Proposal 1-Potential Impacts of Legalized Recreational Marijuana

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In just over two weeks, recreational use of marijuana could be legal in Michigan.  Then what happens?  89.1 WEMU’s Lisa Barry explores the possible impact on local communities, law enforcement, businesses, and the tourism industry, should the adult personal use of marijuana be legalized by Michigan voters.

Michigan voters will be asked in November to vote yes or no on Proposal 1 , a marijuana legalization initiative.

If it wins approval, the recreational use and possession of marijuana for persons 21 years of age or older will be legal, and a tax will be enacted on marijuana sales.

I met long time cannabis, as he prefers to call it, advocate Jaimie Lowell at an Ypsilanti restaurant to discuss the impact of marijuana use for personal consumption and to get a feel for how it might change the local landscape if it is approved by state voters.

Credit Lisa Barry
Cannabis backer Jamie Lowell

To my surprise, Lowell says he thinks the impact will be minimal.

Should the law change in Michigan about using marijuana, residents would be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and 15 grams of marijuana concentrate;

You can keep up to 10 ounces at home where you can grow up to 12 plants at home for personal use, and you can give up to 2.5 ounces as a gift.

Lowell, who has a stake in an Ypsilanti medical marijuana dispensary, says the excise tax for medical marijuana goes away under this proposal, which will make it more affordable for patients.  He adds that Michigan is going to be charging a very “low” tax rate in his opinion and believes high taxes made it difficult to convert people from the black market to the regulated marijuana sale market.

In fact, the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency just recently released a fiscal analysis of Proposal 1, which estimated that legalization could generate nearly 288 million dollars in 2023 in tax revenue.

The group “Healthy and Productive Michigan” is leading the campaign in opposition to the ballot initiative.  It's being run by the former vice chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Scott Greenlee.

The group is sending frequent emails to the media in recent weeks citing the many groups and organizations that oppose the legalization, including a list of more than 50 Michigan prosecutors, which does not include the Washtenaw County Prosecutor, and most recently a list of 58 Michigan county sheriff’s opposing Proposal One.  The Washtenaw County Sheriff is not on the list.

The largest employer in Washtenaw County is the University of Michigan.  No changes are expected there, should recreational marijuana use be approved.  According to Spokesman Rick Fitzgerald, university officials believe they are already covered by the current policy on alcohol and drug use in the workplace.

But what will be the impact on local communities?

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor says the city has been mostly focusing on medical marijuana dispensaries in Ann Arbor, but really hasn’t made any preparations should recreational use become legalized.

And on the county level?

Andy LaBarre wears two hats as chairman of the Washtenaw County Commission and Executive Vice President of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber.  He says the commission plans to discuss the impact of possible approval at the end of the month and says local businesses are trying to determine what this might mean and what it would lead to.

Local law enforcement is not anticipating a big impact either.

Brian Webb is a drug recognition expert for the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department.  He has already been pulling drivers over for suspected marijuana use while behind the wheel and expects that to continue should it be legalized.

Credit Lisa Barry
Washtenaw County Deputy Brian Webb is a drug recognition expert for the department.

Deputy Webb says they are watching to see what happens and making necessary preparations.

If voters approve the recreational use of marijuana next month, Michigan would become the tenth state in the country where it’s legal and the first in the Midwest.

While it seems local government entities and law enforcement are taking a “wait and see attitude” about legalized marijuana use, one student at the University of Michigan has been proactive about the potential change.

Adam Rosenberg is a senior at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and founder of “Green Wolverine,” the nation’s first student organization focused on cannabis industry with chapters in Michigan, California, and Maryland.

There are 200 members at U of M, and Rosenberg says they are not taking a position on recreational use but are aware of the stigma of personal cannabis use.

Credit Lisa Barry
U of M senior Adam Rosenberg wears a marijuana leaf necklace.

Rosenberg says recreational use of marijuana is already pretty prevalent on the Ann Arbor campus.

He says U of M and the Ross School of Business have been supportive of his efforts, which he intends to follow through on as a career once he graduates.

Rosenburg recently organized a “Cannabis Science Symposium" with funding from the University College of Pharmacy and the Ross School of Business also collaborating with the U of M School of Nursing.

Rosenberg acknowledges there are downsides to marijuana use but still believes there are big business opportunities in the future should it be approved.

Credit Lisa Barry
Rosenberg also wears socks with marijuana leaves on them as well.

Washtenaw County Health Department officials say, according to the most recent countywide health survey, 40 percent of Washtenaw County adults report trying marijuana and 12 percent report use within the last year.

Among Washtenaw high school students, 22 percent report having tried marijuana, and 13 percent report using in the last month.

But the Washtenaw County Health Department issued a statement for this report saying “it has no official position on the legalization of recreational marijuana.  Currently, there are a lot of unknowns.  Research is limited and, at times, inconclusive.”

One possible positive impact from legalized recreational marijuana use could be on Michigan’s tourism industry.  Dave Lorenz is the Vice President of “Pure Michigan.”  As far as the impact on tourism in Michigan goes, Lorenz says they welcome any and all business, but adds he is not sure how this is going to go yet.

If Michigan voters approve recreational marijuana use on November 6th, it will be legal ten days “after official declaration of election results.”

But it’s likely you won’t be able to buy marijuana in a retail establishment for 12 to 15 months, as applications are accepted and processed.  Medical marijuana dispensaries already in business will be the first in line for those licenses.

No matter what Michigan voters decide on November 6th, marijuana remains illegal on the federal level.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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