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Michigan marijuana legalization advocates confirm plans for 2016 ballot proposal
Jonathan Oosting ~ Michigan Live ~
LANSING, MI -- Michigan marijuana advocates have confirmed plans to launch a petition drive later this year and hope to put a legalization proposal on the statewide ballot in 2016.
As MLive first reported last month, the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Initiative Committee is one of two marijuana-related groups eyeing the 2016 ballot.
Board members officially announced the effort on Thursday, indicating that they want to strengthen the state's medical marijuana program, create a regulated system for taxable sales to adults over 21 and facilitate industrial hemp farming.
Committee Chair Jeffrey Hank, a Lansing attorney, said the group is fine-tuning draft language before submitting petitions to the Board of State Canvassers for review.
Proposed language would allow citizens to grow up to 12 marijuana plants each and dedicate tax revenues toward "public interest projects" such as road repairs and schools.
"We're trying to figure out the best way to boost jobs, save the state money, end the war on drugs where people are going to jail for marijuana use, raise revenue and put the money into things that people want," said Hank.
MCCLRIC plans to start a fundraising drive soon and is expecting to use a combination of paid and volunteer workers to collect signatures. The goal is to have petitions out in the field by May.
Michigan election law gives ballot committees a 180-day window to collect the required number of signatures necessary to place a proposal on the ballot. Roughly 250,000 signatures are required for initiated legislation.
Colorado, where legal marijuana sales through licensed stores began last year, reportedly generated $8.8 million in tax and fee revenue this January, which was then the highest grossing month on record. Because Michigan has a larger population, Hank said marijuana legalization could be more lucrative here.
"We're going to have a sales tax, and we're going to have an excise tax on non-medical marijuana, but medical will stay tax free," he said. "We're analyzing those numbers to see how we can have maximum economic impact."
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the state's top law enforcement official, has consistently opposed efforts to legalize or decriminalize recreational marijuana. A spokesperson, asked about the potential petition drive, referred to a previous statement from the attorney general.
"When it comes to the medical marijuana question, we all know people who suffer from great pain and we are monitoring the legislature's review of that law, but we absolutely must keep drugs out of kids' hands and that is why I am opposed to so-called recreational drugs," Schuette said. "Protecting children must be our first priority. Always."
Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, but voters in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have already chosen to legalize recreational use. Marijuana is also illegal under Michigan law, but a number of municipalities have approved decriminalization measures.
Recent polling suggests roughly 50 percent of Michigan voters support the concept of legalization and taxation of marijuana.
A separate group, a non-profit called the Michigan Responsibility Council that involves former Oakland County Republican Party Chairman Paul Welday, is also exploring a potential legalization proposal but has not yet announced plans.
State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, is also preparing statewide legalization legislation. His decriminalization proposal did not advance last session.