What does recreational marijuana mean for West Michigan?

Alexander Sinn • Sep 15, 2018 at 12:00 PM

A new industry may be coming to Michigan in 2019, as voter approval of Proposition 1 on the November ballot would mean the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state.

Support has been brewing in recent years for what industry advocates say could bring $100 million annually to the state in new tax revenue.

Marijuana use is up, as a recent University of Michigan study shows college students are using it more than previous generations. However, the majority of marijuana use is by non-college students.

A recent Detroit News poll showed 56 support for legalization and 38 percent against the proposal.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol gathered 360,000 signatures from across the state to get the language on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“Most people agree that this is an issue and the time has come,” CRMLA spokesperson Josh Hovey said. “Prohibition has been a failure. Enforcement wastes taxpayer dollars.”

What does Prop 1 mean?

If the initiative is approved, individuals could carry up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana flower and 15 grams of concentrate. If an average marijuana cigarette is about 0.5 gram, an individual could carry up to 140 joints. Adults could also keep up to 10 ounces at home and grow up to 12 plants.

It would remain illegal to carry marijuana on federal property or K-12 school campuses. It would also remain a felony to ship marijuana through the U.S. Postal Service.

Patients and medical dispensaries may turn to an over-the-counter option, according to Hovey. 

“Some consumers aren’t comfortable getting on a state list and have challenges navigating the process of getting a medical marijuana card, but still want to use marijuana for medical purposes,” he said. “They’ll have the option to use it without the card.”

The state recently added autism, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease and Tourette’s syndrome to a list of 22 ailments approved for marijuana patients in Michigan. 

There will also be a new incentive for medical users to get their card. The state’s current 3 percent tax on marijuana for card-holders will go away, replaced with a new 10 percent rate for non-medical marijuana, Hovey said. The rate is on the lower side compared to other states, he added.

“We thought it was important to have a reasonable tax that was not so high that it encourages people to continue to use the black market,” Hovey said. “We want people to use the regulated marketplace.” 

‘A different picture’

When Jamie Cooper moved to Grand Haven from Colorado in 2014, she said she was met with culture shock.

“When I moved here, everything on the news was about raids, especially in West Michigan,” she said.

Sensing a shift in culture, Cooper founded Grand Haven-based Cannabiz Connection, an organization that helps marijuana business owners grow their community, providing information and consultation.

While medical dispensaries are scarce in West Michigan, Cooper said, there are many businesses, such as hers, that need the support of growers and suppliers. These businesses would continue to emerge if recreational marijuana is legalized.

“There are going to be a lot of ancillary services that are going to be needed to support those who hold these licenses,” Cooper said. “We’re creating a brand-spanking-new industry and it’s going to be massive.”

Concerns remain about minors having access to legal marijuana and the health risks of using it. Many users currently obtain marijuana from the black market, Cooper said, while the state would test legal marijuana for quality. 

Licenses are also expensive for marijuana businesses, Cooper said, and penalties would be steep for those caught selling to minors.

Older adults and senior citizens who rely on pharmaceutical prescriptions have shown interest in trying cannabis products, Cooper said, and making marijuana legal could encourage more adults to try it for medical purposes. If it becomes legalized, she added, education will be key.

“If (Prop 1) passes, I think that whole stigma is really going to settle down,” Cooper said. “People will get a whole new perspective on it. It’s a different picture when it’s regulated marijuana.”

Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about the upcoming ballot proposal, Extended Grace’s monthly Inspire! meeting will take an in-depth look at the issue. That meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 20, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Momentum Center, 714 Columbus Ave., Grand Haven.

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