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Michigan marijuana proposals head to the ballot

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The latest fight over marijuana in Detroit hits the polls on Nov. 7. On an otherwise pretty spare ballot there will be two questions put to voters that arrived via petition initiatives run by a group called Citizens for Sensible Cannabis Reform.

Neither of the proposals, as they appear on the ballot, are particularly clear about what they enact. The first one is called "an initiative to enact a medical marihuana facilities ordinance." The second appears as "a proposal to amend the Detroit zoning ordinance, chapter 61 of the Detroit city code, consistent with the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act."

The first proposal does several things, but most significantly it cuts the distance a provisioning center can be from parks, day care centers, liquor stores, churches, and other provisioning centers from 1,000 feet, as currently required, to 500 feet, and allows them to stay open an hour later to 9 p.m.

CSCR had to take the city to court in order to put it on the ballot. The second proposal is for Detroit to opt in to the new state law, and it would allow growers and secure transporters (two of the categories allowed by state medical marihuana facilities law) to operate in Detroit's M1-5 industrial districts.

The general impact of these proposals is to pull back some of the regulations the city put on marijuana facilities. That 1,000-feet thing pretty much makes facilities be located far from anywhere that people actually go. There are other tweaks in there but that's the basic intention.

I've got literature from both sides of this issue delivered to my home. The supporters highlight the idea that this will help build the industry and bring money into the community. The opposition literature highlights the idea that marijuana stores would be allowed to be too close to schools, parks, and the like.

My personal opinion is that I want to allow the industry to develop and create opportunities for jobs in the city. And I think that once the state rules come out Dec. 15, there will be a whole lot more competition popping up in the suburbs. One of the reasons there were so many dispensaries in Detroit is that there were not any in Oakland County. Once that changes it will be a very different scene. I think that folks will choose to buy their marijuana nearby at Ye Olde Cannabis Shoppe with its incense and mellow ambience rather than hitting the traffic on Eight Mile Road.

The opposition, mostly focused through the Metropolitan Detroit Community Action Coalition, is fairly alarmist, though increasingly sophisticated. A recent communication from one of its members described the scenario of a growing facility with 2,000 plants in a nearby former school building and expressed concern for the effect that odors, chemicals, water, and drainage would have in the surrounding community.

I wouldn't frame those issues in a way that creates an obstacle for businesses but those are valid community concerns to be addressed. I used to live near a slaughterhouse and I've got to admit there were days the smell of dead meat just hung over the neighborhood. While I find the scent of maturing marijuana flowers refreshing I know that others really, really hate it. However, that doesn't mean there should be onerous and undue regulations on marijuana facilities that other kinds of businesses don't have to comply with.

Detroit voters will get to make the decision on this. You almost didn't get that chance. As happened with the initiative to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults on private property in Detroit, petitioners had to go to court to get city clerk Janice Winfrey to put it on the ballot. Winfrey claimed that "a proposal to amend the Detroit zoning ordinance, chapter 61 of the Detroit city code..." was against state law. The county court said she was wrong. The same thing happened in the case of Proposal M that passed in 2012. Winfrey claimed that the proposal to decriminalize marijuana in Detroit was against state law and refused to put it on the ballot. Petitioners took her to court and eventually prevailed.

We'll soon see if Detroit voters make these proposals winners.

While we're talking votes let's note that the Committee to Regulate Marihuana Like Alcohol has passed the 300,000-signature mark and is headed down the home stretch of this phase of the legalization campaign. CRMLA has until Nov. 22 to turn in a little over 252,000 valid signatures to get recreational legalization on next year's gubernatorial ballot. The group's goal is to turn in some 352,000 signatures to overcome any that are invalidated.

Once the signatures are turned in the state legislature has three months to vote it into law. If not, it goes on next year's ballot — which led me to something of a pipe dream. What if the state legislature, petitions in hand, decides to go ahead and vote to legalize recreational marijuana? It happened in Vermont earlier this year.

What if the state legislature thought, we're rolling out this distribution system for medical marijuana, why not save the taxpayers some money and a lot of fighting on this and create a system for recreational marijuana while we are at it?

Well that would be nice, but I don't think so. Despite the example of Vermont, governments large and small are afraid of marijuana, influenced by drug war propaganda. As their arguments against marijuana have been countered with facts and citizen initiatives, their last tactic is to stall, to wait and see, to declare moratoriums until the evidence is in. That way if some terrible marijuana-related thing happens it won't be their fault.

Of course, the terrible marijuana-related things that are happening — destruction of lives, tearing apart families, murder — are happening because of the drug war that they support.

So, while things seem to be trending toward easing up on marijuana, this is still a movement fought at the ballot box. Vote.

Another positive note is that the commercial side of marijuana continues to march along. It may be just sheer economics that forces marijuana through the barriers. An Alternet headline recently stated, "Marijuana is now a driving engine of the American economy." The report claimed that legal marijuana has created over 149,000 full-time jobs — so it should be no surprise that folks are looking for their chance to create a business in Michigan.

There are two business-oriented events taking place nearby soon. One is "The Business of Cannabis: Everything You Need to Know from Industry Professionals," Thursday, Oct. 12 at the Reserve in Birmingham, organized by the law firm Howard & Howard. The other is the "MMFLA Application Primer and Participant Conference" on Sunday, Oct. 15 at the Kensington Hotel in Ann Arbor, organized by the Michigan Cannabis Business Development Group. The Cannabis Legal Group out of Royal Oak had a similar event at the Cobo Center in September.

It looks like the long money is on cannabis in this encounter.

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