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2018 Election Preview: Michigan Will Vote on Recreational Marijuana

Recreational marijuana initiative headlines Michigan’s November ballot 

Daniel Nichanian

Michiganders will vote this fall on whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, 10 years after they overwhelmingly approved an initiative enabling its medical use. This new measure would allow people to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for personal use and to grow up to 12 plants per household; it also would implement a tax on marijuana sales and distribute the revenue to education and transportation. At the same time, it would empower municipalities to regulate more harshly if not outright ban commercial marijuana businesses within their borders.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol successfully organized this petition drive in the spring, which meant that this initiative would be on the November ballot unless Michigan’s legislature immediately adopted it into law. But the GOP legislature chose not to act after weeks of uncertainty. Had legislators passed the initiative, they would have been able in subsequent years to amend and potentially weaken it with a simple majority. But if the measure passes via a popular vote in November, the legislature would need to muster a supermajority to modify its terms.

What this initiative lacks is a provision to expunge the records of people already convicted of marijuana-related offenses. “Our hope is that the legislature will address this issue shortly after passing, and we know many members of our coalition will be urging them to do just that,” a spokesperson for the coalition told the Detroit News. State Representative Sheldon Neeley, a Democrat who represents Flint, recently introduced a bill that would provide for the expungement of past convictions for acts that this initiative legalizes.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gretchen Whitmer supports expungement reform in addition to the legalization initiative. However, Republican nominee Bill Schuette opposes legalization and has sidestepped the expungement question. Back in 2008, Schuette was chairperson of a group that campaigned against the medical marijuana initiative; after it passed, he led efforts to restrict its scope and filed a complaint that led marijuana dispensaries to be shut down.