Monday, January 30, 2017
The MPP Comes to Michigan - by Tim Beck
In September of 2016, word began to seep out to the Michigan cannabis reform community that an 800lbs gorilla was coming back to town. In essence, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which was responsible for funding and running the successful campaign to create the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA) of 2008, was closely eyeing Michigan for full blown cannabis legalization in 2018.
MPP’s goal is to replicate their famous legalization wins in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. MPP was involved in other successful legalization efforts in California and Washington State, but did not run the show.
To a certain extent MPP was attracted to Michigan by the efforts of MI Legalize, which made a relentless, but unsuccessful attempt to put legalization on the ballot in 2016. The bulk of the money raised by MI Legalize- $640,000 out of roughly $1 million, was contributed by Ann Arbor businessman Kevin McCaffery. The other top 9 donors (according to MI Legalize finance reports) were Jonah Copi of the Ann Arbor Wellness Center, $28,000, Josh Covert/Nichols law firm $14,700, Chuck Ream, Ann Arbor, $13, 624, Ann Arbor Guild, $10,000, AET LLC, Ypsilanti $10,000, Michael Casper, Ford Motor CO, Redford, $10,000, Alec Riffle, Ann Arbor, $6,000 James Salme, OM, Ann Arbor, $4,670 and Jamie Lowell, Ypsilanti, $4,450.
Mr. McCaffery is a reclusive personality, who shuns the limelight, and whose net worth is unknown to the general public. It is fair to say however, if it was not for his critical support, it is unlikely MI Legalize would have done as well as they did.
Essentially, Michigan, with over 10 million residents, will be the biggest state in the USA next to California to legalize marijuana. If that happens, it will be the only state in the untested mid-west to make it. Unless MI Legalize wins a federal court lawsuit against the State of Michigan for denying them ballot status last year, any new ballot initiation effort must raise at least the same amount of money and get all the signatures needed in 6 months.
During “listening tour” appearances by MPP leaders in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Detroit, MPP founder and Executive Director Rob Kampia estimated in a worst case scenario, based upon past successful MPP campaigns; it could take up to $1.8M to guarantee ballot access and up to $8M to win.
It is expected the opposition will be tough, led by surrogates of the powerful cannabis hater Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Schuette has been obsessed with the Michigan governorship for years. He will make his move in 2018. Schuette has lots of money and is respected by prohibitionists nationwide. He does not want to see legalization on the ballot in 2018, and if it is, he wants it defeated. Most political and legal experts such as State Representative Jeff Irwin, simply take for granted that any legalization proposal that gets the correct number of signatures, no matter how well written, will be challenged in court to keep it from going to the voters. If such makes the ballot, Schuette could lose the election, since the ‘wrong’ type of voter could be drawn to the polls, just for that issue, and the fallout will be on him.
Mr. Kampia explained that if MPP decides to make a play in Michigan, the money will come from a myriad of sources. These sources include wealthy persons from outside Michigan who have contributed to legalization in other states and members of the canna business community in Michigan, who want as close to a sure win as it gets. There will also be small, in kind contributors who simply want the police boot off their backs, via bright line legalization.
As of this writing, efforts are going on behind the scenes to secure a united front.
Back in 2007, when the MMMA was on the drawing board; Michigan NORML was the only cannabis policy reform group existing in Michigan. It was a rag tag, but dedicated group, which produced successful medical marijuana ballot initiatives in Ferndale, Traverse City, and Flint. Those successful initiatives all received financial assistance from MPP. No complex negotiations were needed back then. MPP ran the show in no uncertain terms.
Today things are different. In addition to MI Legalize, powerful canna business consortiums, lobbyists and a new breed of marijuana entrepreneurs have emerged. Some are connected to the Michigan GOP in one way or another. The possibility exists the Michigan Legislature could act to legalize marijuana in their own way, prior to any state wide vote being taken.
In any event, a united front is critical if anything whatsoever is going to happen. Michigan is MPP’s greatest challenge in its long history of good work.