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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

V.G.I.P. UPDATE: Can Michigan Legalize in 2018? - by Ben Horner

     MI Legalize has announced plans to prepare for a new petition drive for 2018, which aims to start collecting fresh signatures next spring.  This comes as no surprise after the strong effort in 2015 and 2016, and challenges to the rulings against their first petition in state and federal court, subsequent falling short of the state’s 180-day rule. According to MI Legalize website the first goal of raising one hundred thousand dollars for the new petition is almost complete. MI Legalize board member Debra Young took a moment to update us in an exclusive MMM Report interview.



DEBRA YOUNG,
Board Member of MI Legalize
     “MI Legalize is moving forward with our 2018 campaign. There are other groups that are also interested in possibly doing a petition Michigan, but we are not focusing on them right know. There may be an opportunity to work together with groups like MPP, but we cannot assume anything. We learned from the last campaign how to fundraise late in the game. This time we will be prepared, but if there is a chance to bring more to the table we will consider all options. We may be able to negotiate a merger.”

     Godfather of the local petitions to legalize cannabis and reform cannabis policy in Michigan, Tim Beck is skeptical. Although invited to join the MI Legalize campaign on several occasions, Mr. Beck declined, stating that he refuses to work with an underfunded campaign.  It was the local initiative in Detroit started by Tim and other cities around the Great Lakes State that brought the Marijuana Policy Project to Michigan. When they came they brought over a million dollars to fund the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act of 2008 (MMMA). Tim told us:

     “The holy Grail for me, is to see a well funded, united effort when a move is made in Michigan in 2018. I worked with MPP in past Michigan efforts. They are tough, experienced players. I trust their expertise in polling and pragmatic, strategic thinking. At this moment, I am keeping my powder dry and have no affiliation with any Michigan based legalization group at this time.”

     MPP is exploring the possibility of collaborating with local advocates on a 2018 initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult use in Michigan. In mid-December, MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia and Karen O’Keefe will hold a listening tour of Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Detroit (December 15th, 16th and 17th respectively, specifics yet to be released) to share preliminary thoughts and to hear from Michiganders about the possible initiative.

     The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is supporting ballot initiative campaigns to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada and is part of a coalition of groups coordinating a ballot initiative campaign in California. On Election Day 2016, voters in these states will have the opportunity to approve ballot questions to tax and regulate marijuana and make its use and possession legal for adults aged 21 and over.

     As MPP’s director of state policies, Karen O’Keefe manages MPP’s grassroots and direct lobbying efforts in state legislatures. Karen has worked at MPP since 2003. She played a significant role in MPP’s successful medical marijuana campaigns in Montana (2004) and Rhode Island (2006). Karen has managed MPP’s state legislative department during medical marijuana victories in Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Illinois, and during successful decriminalization campaigns in Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Vermont. She is responsible for updating MPP’s model legislation, which formed the basis for several laws. In 2011, she was appointed by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to serve on the state’s medical marijuana work group.*

Karen O'Keefe,
Director of State Policies MMP


     Karen played a big part in the MMMA of 2008 and has testified in front of the Michigan legislature in the years after the act was initiated.

     The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is supporting ballot initiative campaigns to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada and is part of a coalition of groups coordinating a ballot initiative campaign in California. On Election Day 2016, voters in these states will have the opportunity to approve ballot questions to tax and regulate marijuana and make its use and possession legal for adults aged 21 and over.*

     MMM Report reached O’Keefe and she was very gracious and took the time to respond to our questions.

Having successfully run the campaign for the MMMA of 2008, what does MPP think about prospects of Michigan running a recreational ballot initiative in 2018?

O’Keefe: “Michigan is the state we’re most interested in when it comes to exploring a 2018 initiative to allow marijuana for adult use. We’re hopeful that Michigan-based organizations and advocates, funders, and MPP can all work together to make Michigan the first state to legalize marijuana in the Midwest, just as it was the first to allow medical marijuana in the Midwest.”

What factors does MPP consider when considering a ballot initiative?

O’Keefe: “Some of the factors we consider include polling, whether we have the capacity to run the ballot measure, and whether sufficient funding will be available.”

MPP has worked in states that have competing ballot initiatives, how much of a difference does that make when deciding whether to run a campaign?

O’Keefe: “With an issue like marijuana legalization and regulation, where ballot measures typically poll in the low to mid fifties, having two separate ballot initiative on the ballot is a recipe for failure. Inevitably, some people who support the general concept of allowing adults to use and buy marijuana will vote for only one of the two measures, thus splitting the vote and causing both to lose. We’ve worked in some states where there was initially a competing ballot measure, but eventually the groups united and only one appeared in the ballot. We had expected to help fund an Arkansas medical marijuana measure this year, but ended up not doing so when it became clear two measures would qualify for the ballot and split the vote. Since then, the state Supreme Court kicked one measure off the ballot after early voting began (i.e. after the vote was already being split). Litigation continues.”

What if any legislative lobbying in Lansing will be done by MPP if Michigan lawmakers attempt to write their own recreational marijuana bill?

O’Keefe:
“We’d be happy to supply our model bill and suggestions to Michigan lawmakers who sponsor adult-use marijuana bills. That said, we haven’t seen any signs that the full legislature or governor are ready to move forward to end prohibition. For Michigan to legalize and regulate marijuana in the next few years, it appears voters would need to act themselves. At this point, we have no plans to retain lobbyists in Lansing.”

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a constitutional amendment in Michigan, verses a statutory initiative?

O’Keefe: “A constitutional amendment would be significantly more expensive because it requires 25% more valid signatures. On background: We’d need to do more research to fully answer this. I’m not sure what exactly is allowed to be in the MI constitution. I suspect the measures would have to be short, thus requiring legislative action. But I can’t say for sure. Also, some voters just don’t like putting policy decisions in the constitution, so that can peel off some votes. I know our ’08 medical marijuana measure was statutory, and that legislative meddling is difficult in Michigan, so we almost certainly would want to take that route again. A constitutional amendment can’t be amended or repealed by the legislature directly, but even a statutory measure has some significant protection from legislative meddling — a 3/4 supermajority is needed.”

Michigan recently passed regulations for medical marijuana. How does this impact MPP consideration to help Michiganders get to where other Recreational states are?

O’Keefe: “It does not have a significant impact. MPP provided the bulk of the funding for the successful initiatives in Colorado — where there was a regulatory structure for medical marijuana — and Alaska — where there was no medical marijuana industry, or regulatory structure.”

*Italicized source: www.mpp.org

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