This Tuesday, state legislature in Michigan considered a law briefly that would have made recreational cannabis legal completely for adults anywhere in the state. However, it did not even get to a vote. Republicans, who were leading the initiative, abandoned it at the last moment when they recognized that they lacked the numbers to pass it.
Even worse, Tuesday was the final deadline for the state legislature. This means that the proposal is no longer up for consideration. Despite this, and strangely indeed, weed advocates are calling its failure a very good thing. According to them, if legislature passes the law instead of it passing as a ballot initiative, as was the original intention, the bill would be open and vulnerable to partisan changes.
“The intent of pushing it through the legislature is not in the interest of public opinion.” That was the voice of Justin Strekal, who is the political director of NORML, or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He said, “It is in the interest of political expediency.” To understand what Strekal means, one must first learn a little background on the initiative.
The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol campaign was responsible for putting the proposal together, and they based it on Michigan’s very successful medical marijuana drive back in 2016. If it passes into law, it would give adults freedom to carry up to 2.5 ounces of weed on their persons, store as much as 10 ounces in the privacy of their homes, and cultivate as many as 12 plants for personal consumption.
Back in April, all 360,000 signatures for the initiative had certification: The measure was officially off to ballot. However, Republicans in the State Senate opted to take control of the language. If popular vote were to pass it into law, the House and Senate would not be able to make any amendments to it without two-thirds in agreement, which would protect citizens from overreaching regulations.
However, if legislature passed it as law, they would have full ability to tweak laws as they please with just a simple majority. Josh Hovey, communications director for the Regulate Marijuana campaign, said this, “Republican lawmakers wanted to have easier access to making changes, which might not have been bipartisan changes that are good for everybody.”
Hovey explained why advocates are happy that Michigan did not legalize cannabis, “Now any changes that are made should have to be far more bipartisan of a solution.” He spoke of nervousness within the campaign that legislature would pass this law and there would be notable restructuring of legalization, such as stripping adults of their right to grow weed at home, for example.
According to Hovey, putting the proposal into legislature was a direct attempt by Republicans to create “more of a monopolized system.” He said of the news, “That is where there is some relief among the campaign, since we had not seen anything in writing that would have been left as written.” However, as it is currently, the initiative is not perfect yet and has some certain drawbacks.
One of these is the lack of a clause that would expunge criminal records for people, mostly those of color, with convictions for non-violent drug crimes, many of whom spent a great deal of time in prison for marijuana-related offenses. “We had very much hoped to include expungement, and had included it in the first draft of our ballot language,” explained Hovey.
Expungement, he says, would be an amendment to pursue with a two-thirds vote once the initiative finally does get approval. “Our hope is that the legislature will address this issue shortly after passing, and we know many members of our coalition will be urging them to do just that.” Drafting amendments seems a more practical solution than taking freedoms from people to enrich a monopolized few.
NORML’s Strekal says that this is exactly why his organization prefers a ballot measure to legislation. “Traditionally, we trust voters to make these decisions more than we trust lawmakers,” he explained. “So, we are looking forward to the voters of Michigan being able to cast their vote, to codify that it is the public will to legalize marijuana for responsible adult use.”