Tuesday, May 30, 2017
THE CANNABIS LEGALIZATION TRAIN HAS LEFT THE STATION IN MICHIGAN - by Tim Beck
After years of struggle, beginning with Michigan's own John Sinclair in the late 1960's; a dead serious, well funded, sophisticated ballot initiative to finally legalize cannabis in the Great Lakes State has taken off. The effort was born with a bang, not a whimper.
The "Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol" (CRMLA) is spearheaded by the famous "Marijuana Policy Project" (MPP). Based in Washington DC, MPP's money and expertise legalized medical marijuana in Michigan in 2008. It is directly responsible for cannabis legalization in Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Maine and Nevada. As a result, heavy money and political muscle (hired and other wise) is being brought to bear, to end cannabis prohibition once and for all in this state.
The signature gathering firm "National Petition Management " (NPM) is considered by political insiders to be the most the most effective, "guaranteed result" signature gathering firm in the USA. NPM has been exclusively retained for the effort. NPM services are not cheap. Cheap short cuts usually fail.
The finest election law attorneys in Michigan collectively wrote the ballot language. At the top is John Pirich from the Honigman law firm. Pirich is considered the guru of election law in Michigan. Some of you reading this, may remember the old E.F. Hutton stock broker TV commercial. It's exhortation was "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen" That is how some political power brokers and election attorney's respond, when Mr. Pirich takes the stage in a Lansing Committee room, or a court of law.
The blue chip public and media relations firm of "Truscott-Rossman" famous for among other things, being the major advertising sponsor for the long running, political TV show "Off the Record" with Tim Scubick will aggressively promote and defend the campaign until the final votes are cast in November 2018.
Intensive polling has been conducted, to minimize the risk of having something distasteful in the proposed law, which could turn off voters who do not use cannabis but are opened minded to voting "yes"
Finally, the cannabis reform community has closed ranks. MI Legalize, which heroically attempted a legalization ballot initiative but failed because of under funding, worked out its philosophical differences with MPP and its allies.
Such a thing is a first in the USA. Practically every "legalized" state in the country had sincere but misguided cannabis proponents teaming up with cops, business groups, and prohibitionists like Kevin Sabet, because they did not like the poll tested versions of legalization proposed by MPP.
However, even with these big advantages at the starting gate, no one should expect a cakewalk to the ballot box in the next 18 months. Attacks by prohibitionist's have already begun.
The Michigan State Board of Canvassers (BOC) is for the most part a ministerial institution. It is composed of two Democrats and two Republicans, constitutionally appointed by the Governor to among other things, certify election results and approve or disapprove the formatting of ballot initiative petitions. The BOC does not approve or disapprove the substance or internal wording of the ballot petition itself. In fact, ballot initiative sponsors are not legally required to submit the actual petition to the BOC for approval. However, it is good public relations to do so. In the case of (CRMLA) a decision to submit the petition to the BOC was made, and the BOC unanimously approved the petitions general format.
Generally BOC meetings are sleepy, pro forma events. But not this time, when it came to CRMLA.
A newly formed entity called "Keeping Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools" (KPONS) demanded the BOC not certify the CRMLA proposal because it was "deceptive" for a number of reasons. The primary reason they claimed, is the initiative did not actually regulate marijuana like alcohol. They declared the language was invented by a committee of lawyers who tried to "create a race horse but ended up with a moose." The KPONS virtually guaranteed a legal challenge to keep CRMLA off the ballot if the BOC were to certify the measure.
What is the real deal with KPONS?
What we know now, is something about its front men. They are attorney Gary Gordon, Chris DeWitt owner of "DeWitt Communications" and Republican political fundraiser Steve Linder. All of these gentlemen were at the BOC meeting.
According to reliable sources, Gary Gordon from the Dykema law firm was legal adviser to the Michigan Responsibility Council (MRC) He was the legal expert who concluded MRC's legalization model, creating an oligopoly to control all production of legal marijuana, would take a constitutional amendment. MRC internal polling indicated if such an amendment were attempted, it would be almost guaranteed to lose on election day or even implement if it won. Consequently MRC pulled the plug on that idea.
Chris DeWitt at one time was regional representative for US Senator Carl Levin and later played a role in the Jennifer Granholm administration. He then apparently switched his party affiliation to become "senior adviser" to Governor Rick Snyder in 2010. When the Flint water crisis blew up, Snyder tapped DeWitt to do public relations damage control on his behalf.
Steve Linder, owner of Sterling Corporation, has been on the Lansing scene for years and specializes in political fundraising. His website proclaims him to be the "most successful political fundraiser in Michigan history" He purports to have been involved in "more statewide ballot initiatives then any other Michigan consulting firm" Finally, he states he was named one of the "top five Michigan Republicans in 2013" by "Campaigns and Elections Magazine."
The burning question for some of us, is whether or not MRC is working with this crew.
In a story published in MIRS News May 19, MRC President Suzi Mitchel said her group is not involved with KPONS, but MRC does not support CRMLA either.
It is likely Ms Mitchell is telling the truth-- at least in a technical sense. It might look unseemly and petty that an organization in favor of "legalization" at one time and failed to accomplish its agenda, would crawl in bed with ardent prohibitionists. MRC however does not have to be officially involved with KPONS. All MRC's secret financial backers need do is act "independently" and in theory still get what they want down the road. Mr Linder was overheard in the Capitol Building the day of the BOC meeting saying if MPP "waited until 2020" everything would have been just fine.
In any event, Mr. Gordon, Mr. DeWitt and Mr. Linder will all get paid one way or the other. Win or lose.
As for CRMLA, it has all the resources needed to play rough. It has the support of virtually all grassroots cannabis users in Michigan. It is on the right side of history, and the poll numbers are getting better and better as each day goes by.
Finally, everyone of us is going to have to work as if our lives depended on it. This is not a guaranteed result. Losing is not an option.
Tim Beck is Chairman of the Safer Michigan Coalition. The Coalitions's goal is to fully legalize the use of cannabis by all adults in Michigan.