Michigan voters will decide on marijuana legalization

Michigan voters will decide on marijuana legalization
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Michigan residents will decide whether to legalize the sale, possession and use of marijuana for recreational purposes in November, after a state board certified supporters had turned in enough signatures to qualify for the fall ballot.

The state Board of Canvassers agreed Thursday that backers of the ballot measure had turned in about 277,000 valid signatures, more than the 252,523 they needed to qualify for the ballot.

The initiative would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. It would implement new regulations for businesses that would eventually make up a retail market and impose a 10 percent excise tax on retail sales on top of a 6 percent sales tax.

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Like other states that have passed marijuana legalization measures in recent years, the initiative would give local jurisdictions the ability to prohibit marijuana-related businesses inside their borders. Similar provisions exist in state legalization laws in California, Nevada and Massachusetts, where voters approved legalization in 2016.

Supporters will emulate other states where voters have approved legal recreational use, pitching the legalization measure as a way to regulate marijuana the same way alcohol is regulated.

“This November, Michigan voters will have the opportunity to replace the failed policy of marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation,” said Matthew Schweich, who heads the Marijuana Policy Project and serves as treasurer of the Michigan group supporting the initiative.

Opponents said they had expected supporters to gather enough signatures. Just as supporters have settled on the argument that marijuana should be regulated like alcohol, opponents have zeroed in on comparisons to the tobacco industry.

“We’re gearing up for a fight,” said Kevin Sabet, president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “The pot industry has received too much of a free pass — they want to be the next Big Tobacco. We look forward to helping educate folks that legalization is all about greed and puts our kids at risk.”

The fight between legalization advocates and opponents is likely to be expensive, but supporters appear to have the early edge. A March survey conducted by the Michigan-based pollster EPIC-MRA found 61 percent of state voters would back the legalization initiative, while just 35 percent said they would oppose it. Democrats and independents favored legalization by wide margins, and even Republicans were evenly divided, with 48 percent opposing and the same percentage approving.

Michigan would be the 10th state to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes if the measure passes. It would also be the first state in the Midwest to legalize recreational pot; most states that have passed ballot measures are in the West or Northeast. Only one state, Vermont, has legalized marijuana through its legislature, though New Jersey is considering similar legislation.

The only other Midwestern state where voters have weighed in on marijuana is Ohio. Voters rejected legalization there, by a broad 63 percent to 36 percent margin in 2015. Legalization supporters like the Marijuana Policy Project were broadly critical of that campaign, which used a mascot of a marijuana bud.