Michigan Senate bill would ban growing pot at home, lower sales tax

Alexander Sinn • Dec 1, 2018 at 8:00 AM

A bill in the state Senate would strip away several key parts of the recreational marijuana program that was approved by Michigan voters less than four weeks ago.

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, has proposed Senate Bill 1243, which would ban individuals from growing plants at home, lower the tax rate on marijuana, and prevent schools and roads from receiving revenue from a marijuana tax.

The current version of the law is expected to go into effect Dec. 6, upon which individuals age 21 and older will be able to carry up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow 12 plants at home.

The Meekhof-proposed bill would make it illegal to grow plants at home, aiming to ensure that all products are regulated in the industry and taxed.

"He understands people are in favor of decriminalizing marijuana, but just like alcohol and tobacco, he still believes it should be regulated," said Meekhof spokesperson Amber McCann.

The bill redirects tax revenue that was intended to go to schools and roads to local government, kicking 25 percent to municipalities, 30 percent to counties and 5 percent to county sheriff's offices. 

Meekhof, who was term-limited this year and leaves office at the end of the month, is proposing to lower the tax rate on recreational pot from 10 percent to 3 percent. The current 3 percent tax on medical marijuana will be eliminated under the current law.

The 10 percent rate is the lowest among the 10 states and Washington, D.C., that currently allow recreational marijuana. Washington is the only state with recreational pot that bans home growing. 

Josh Hovey, a spokesperson for the coalition that got the marijuana initiative on the Michigan ballot, said he did not expect the state Legislature to attempt to rewrite the law. It was the Legislature’s choice to push the issue to the ballot, he said. 

“It’s really a disappointment, and I think disrespectful to the political process and Michigan voters when voters overwhelmingly said they want to see marijuana legalized and regulated in Michigan,” he said. “It’s an undemocratic thing to do.” 

The coalition’s two arguments for the proposal included lessening the use of law enforcement resources on low-level possession of marijuana and to generate significant new tax revenue for the state, according to Hovey. He said the proposed bill would undercut these aims. 

“To make it so people can’t grow limited amounts of marijuana, when you can brew unlimited amounts of beer — a lot of the changes that are being proposed don’t make sense,” Hovey said.

Meekhof’s bill also aims to eliminate licensing for micro-grow licenses.

“What they’re trying to do is appease big business interests,” Hovey said. “This (ballot initiative) was written very intentionally to be the most small-business-friendly initiative in the country.” 

The bill would bring the recreational law more in line with the existing medical marijuana program, bringing control and licensing of recreational businesses under an appointed board.

During a lame-duck session before the Legislature turnover in January, Meekhof will need a three-quarters majority in both the House and Senate for the bills to be approved. Republicans currently hold a supermajority in the Senate but not the House. 

Proposal 1 passed with 56 percent statewide support on the Nov. 6 ballot, despite opposition from many municipal leaders.

All precincts in the city of Grand Haven supported the state proposal, while voters in Grand Haven Township and Ottawa County as a whole did not. However, the majority of municipalities in the county are planning to ban facilities that will be part of the new industry. The city has banned recreational facilities and public use of marijuana, while Grand Haven Township will consider the same actions later this month.

Recreational marijuana facilities — such as growers, distributors and retailers — will likely not be able to set up shop until 2021, as the state must first prepare a system for issuing licenses and regulating the industry.

The Holland Sentinel contributed to this report.  

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