Michigan voters prepare to say 'yes' or 'no' to recreational marijuana
BERRIEN CO., Mich. -- Lighting up pot for recreational use has been lighting up Michigan headlines since the ballot measure was approved in September. Now in just a few days voters will decide whether Michigan will become the tenth state to totally decriminalize marijuana.
Proposal 18-1 would allow people to use, possess and even grow their own pot for recreational use, but there are limits. Supporters say it’s taking the drug off the streets and putting it in a safe regulated space. Those opposed say it’s just making it easier for people to get access and encouraging people to light up who otherwise wouldn’t.
Right now possessing any amount of marijuana is illegal in Michigan unless it falls under the strict guidelines of medical marijuana. Propsal one could change that.
If passed, adults 21 and older would be allowed to carry two and a half ounces of marijuana on them, ten ounces at home and grow up to twelve plants at their house.
Josh Hovey is the spokesperson for the Yes on 1 Campaign and the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol , the committee behind the ballot proposal
"What we’re proposing is to stop wasting law enforcement resources enforcing a failed law," said Hovey. "Proposal One is really not about saying that we want more people using marijuana. We don’t. We want it regulated. We want to recognize that the prohibition of marijuana -- just like alcohol -- doesn’t work and it’s time to do something better."
He says, that something better is taking marijuana out of the streets and putting it into safe regulated spaces.
"Marijuana will only be allowed to be sold in licensed marijuana businesses," said Hovey. "They won't be able to sell any other products. The only reason you will have to go into this business is specifically to buy cannabis and nothing else."
Individual communities could also make the choice to ban the sale of pot altogether, but they wouldn’t be able to stop people from growing it at home or buying it somewhere else and bringing it back to the community.
There’s also strict regulation about marketing that would be attractive to kids. That means edibles resembling things like gummy bears will not be allowed. Lighting up in public places is also prohibited.
"Public consumption will be illegal. You won't have people walking down the street smoking joints. Just like you're not allowed to walk down the street and drink a beer," said Hovey. "Driving under the influence will be illegal just like it is for alcohol it will be for marijuana just like it is today."
Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic says testing for the two is not the same.
"It is more problematic for the roadside testing as to whether someone is intoxicated by the use of marijuana -- so it is more difficult to prove," said Sepic.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed there has been a 3 percent increase in car crashes since the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado, but in another report The American Journal of Public Health found no increase.
Sepic asked, "Do we really want to tip toe into this not knowing the good and the bad completely?"
"Law enforcement are well trained on how to detect if someone is under the influence of anything -- whether it's alcohol or prescription medications or marijuana or what it might be," Hovey added. "Using any of those substances and getting on the road is illegal and it will be illegal whether Proposal 1 passes or not."
One thing is for certain Proposal 1 could bring in a significant amount of tax dollars. The Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency estimates about $287 million dollars worth. Money that would be split between roads, schools and communities where there are marijuana businesses.
Sepic argues, the steep taxes would create a demand for a tax free black market.
"People will want to avoid that tax and so that is going to be just as much of a law enforcement issue as it is now," said Sepic.
"As more states legalize the fewer there will be product of the black market," said Hovey. "There's not a black market for alcohol anymore. That's because the entire country has gone for the full legalization of alcohol."
If Proposal 18-1 passes, the possession of marijuana would be legal as soon as the results are certified. The first recreation marijuana shops would likely open in 2020.