Taking a look back on 2018, it was a great year for marijuana supporters in Michigan — and literally the entire North American continent. Either adult use or medical marijuana is legal everywhere on the continent except in 17 U.S. states. If you add up the populations of the states along with Canada and Mexico, eight in 10 North Americans live where some form of marijuana is legally accessible. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Locally, Michigan voters chose adult use over prohibition, and the medical marijuana production and distribution system began handing out licenses as it stumbled through a bumbling rollout.
Looking forward into 2019, it looks like the medical system will be fully implemented in Michigan. Plus, the new adult use law mandates that the state have business applications available by Dec. 6 2019, so we'll see that process begin next year, too.
At least we will if buttheads like Sen. Arlan Meekoff and Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley don't have things their way. Meekoff sponsored the recently failed legislation to rewrite provisions of the new law. And last week Finley penned a column titled "Legislature should rewrite pot law," calling for a change in part because the taxes set by the law are too low.
This is a surprise because Finley supported the new law before the election and even penned a column about his visit to a Colorado dispensary to buy a cannabis-based skin cream he uses. In this recent column, Finley details how high the taxes are in other states and bemoans our paltry 10 percent excise tax on top of the six percent sales tax.
Finley's column is a mess from start to finish. He opens with: "There's still an opportunity to get Michigan's recreational marijuana law right before the amendment passed by voters last month goes into widespread effect."
First of all, what's this amendment stuff? The new law is not an amendment to anything. It's just a new law. Second, the new law is already in widespread effect. On Dec. 6 the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act was enacted across the entire state of Michigan. There is nowhere else for it to be enacted in Michigan. It cannot get any more widespread. Finley may have meant something else, but that's not what he wrote. I'm not sure if this is a bit of the ol' "alternative facts" or just confusion. Either way, it's wrong.
Finley continues bemoaning the law with the idea that, as written, it will make it more difficult to keep marijuana out of the hands of minors. That's a laudable idea, but memo to Nolan: Marijuana has been in the hands of minors for decades, and so far no law has been able to keep it out of their hands. But what I'm hearing out of Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, is that teen use did not go up after legalization. A December 2017 headline in The Washington Post declares, "Following marijuana legalization, teen drug use is down in Colorado." A July 19 report from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment report asserts, "Marijuana use in Colorado rises for adults, stays the same for kids."
There are competing narratives about this, but Finley cites nothing to bolster his case other than an uninformed opinion. I would expect someone like Finley to bring a better game with his argument.
Then, after arguing that minors will be awash in marijuana from home grows, Finley complains that in the legal environment "consumers won't have easy access (the way minors will) and will still be stigmatized."
Finley seems to strike a sympathetic note for consumers here, but goes on to indulge in doing a little stigmatizing himself by declaring the taxes set for marijuana in the new law are too low. He stigmatizes users throughout the piece, and the idea to collect a "sin" tax as high as possible on the backs of marijuana users is the sharpest point of his hypocrisy.
He goes into great detail about how high the taxes are in other states and that Michigan is getting screwed by its low taxes. People like Finley, a man who tends to associate with people on the tax-hating end of the political spectrum, tend to think taxes are too high. But I guess you can look the other way when it comes to taxing marijuana users.
Then the column moves into fear mongering with the words, "If the way medical marijuana was implemented is a guide, those dispensaries will be heavily concentrated in urban neighborhoods far away from the customer base."
In this, Finley is giving a nod to the Detroiters who were alarmed by the number of retail locations that cropped up in Detroit before the city began to regulate them. There was no implementation of the medical marihuana law for eight years until the state legislature acted. That same proliferation probably won't happen again because both the city and state are paying attention now, and there is now a ton of oversight on marijuana businesses.
Another reason for the proliferation in Detroit was the situation in Oakland County where Sheriff Jim Bouchard and Prosecutor Jessica Simpson declared war on marijuana stores. Anyone in their right mind would choose to go into business in Detroit before considering Oakland County.
That's all over. Oakland County was taking advantage of a glitch in the medical marijuana law that has been fixed by the state legislature. Now provisioning centers are legal and exist in Oakland County. I'm not sure where this faraway customer base Finley alludes to resides. Is he saying that people in urban neighborhoods don't use marijuana and people from far away do?
Finally, Finley goes off on a jag to bemoan the fact that the new law had no provisions to release people currently jailed for marijuana offenses. He takes umbrage that people are jailed for something that is now legal. He wants to rewrite the law so that expungements for those who are incarcerated are included. If Finley is paying attention, and I suspect he is, he should know that our Democratic governor-elect and attorney general-elect have already announced support for that idea and it's on their agenda. Expungement was a side issue in the elections.
It was on the minds of the members of the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, but they chose to keep the petition drive focused on pot without complicating it with other issues. Activists are already pushing on this front. Finley is welcome to pitch in and help on the issue.
There's been plenty of progress made in 2018, and so there's much more to do in the next year to protect those gains.
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