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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Cannabis Legalization in Michigan 2018: The Polling Phase Begins - by Tim Beck

    On February 17, the first draft of a ballot proposal to legalize all personal use of marijuana for adults, was revealed to the Michigan cannabis reform community. Spear headed by the powerful Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) in conjunction with an evolving “Unity Coalition” composed of MI Legalize, NPRA, the Michigan ACLU and other interested parties, the new, well funded initiative has every promise of success in 2018.

    However, a “promise” is only a promise. It is not reality. Much work is yet to be done. Some of us reading this blog have learned the hard way that the toughest challenge faced in winning a ballot initiative, is the construction of the actual proposal itself.

    The normal way of changing the law is through elected officials. It is a serious, and normally complex process. Every interested party gets to have their input into the proposed new law. Intense legal analysis is done. Elected officials usually know what a majority of their constituents want. However, months and even years can go by before anything changes.

    Ballot initiative organizers however are on their own. They have to do their own legal work and know what voters want and how they want it.

    For statewide initiatives, it can cost millions of dollars to get the signatures needed and sell the plan to sometimes indifferent, low information voters. That is in addition to battling well- organized, deep pocketed special interest groups and individuals who do not want what you want. In Michigan, statistically speaking, it is almost the norm for initiatives to fail. They fail due to lack of money, legal challenges to poorly written proposals or failure to win voter support on Election day itself.

    These facts now bring us to the importance of the proposal itself. It is imperative the proposal must be in sync with voter wishes. It also must be very carefully constructed to survive legal challenges to keep the initiative itself off the ballot --- or destroy it politically in the Legislature or in the Courts after the measure is passed by the voters.

    As of this writing, the Michigan “Unity” effort is in good shape from a legal perspective. From grass roots to grass tops, the group has some of the best election law attorney’s imaginable as part of the team. They are leaving no stone un-turned to get it right.

    The major concern at this juncture, is discerning what voters want on a nuts and bolts level. Sometimes that is not what the initiative organizers think voters want. Recent polls indicate support is running 57% in Michigan for legalization. However no one knows how the 87% of the voters who want legalization but do not use cannabis, would like to see it regulated in the real world. We must know this, otherwise failure is virtually certain.

   The draft proposal is now in the polling stage, to find out what voters will accept and reject. We also want to know any weaknesses in advance; so we do not get blown out of the water by deep pocketed prohibition zealots. The polling results will determine in a big way what is ultimately circulated in petition form, on our projected start date of May 1st.

    In many cases, committed ballot initiative advocates (for practically any cause) tend to think what they want is what everyone else wants too. Effective, fine tuned polling, clears up potentially zealous misconceptions, and brings all concerned much closer to the “sure thing” we all want when the votes are counted on election day.


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