The push to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use got a boost Friday when a deadline for opposition groups to challenge petition signatures passed and no one stepped up.
Now it will be up to the Secretary of State's election office to review a 500-signature sample of the 362,102 signatures that were turned in by the Committee to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol in November, to determine whether there are enough valid signatures from registered voters to qualify for the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Once that review is complete, the state Board of Canvassers will rule on whether voters will see marijuana legalization on the ballot.
"It’s great news, it shows the opposition must feel that we have a well-worded proposal, but that doesn’t mean we’re taking anything for granted," said Josh Hovey, spokesman for the pro-legalization group.
And just because the group may have won this first battle — it must have 252,523 valid petition signatures to get on the ballot — it does not mean it has won the war.
There are still two groups that have formed to formally oppose the ballot proposal: The Committee to Keep Pot out of Neighborhoods and Schools and the Healthy and Productive Michigan Committee.
Neither had asked to challenge the petition signatures by Friday's 5 p.m. deadline, however.
The first committee is funded by the Michigan Responsibility Council — an organization of businesses that are interested only in medical, not recreational, marijuana. That group is the only contributor so far to the anti-legalization effort with a $5,000 donation, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State.
"There are a number of options being looked at" for how the opposition campaign will develop, said Chris DeWitt, spokesman for the committee. "There certainly will be opposition of a robust nature."
The other group — Healthy and Productive Michigan — is bankrolled so far by the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Virginia-based group opposed to the legalization of marijuana, which has kicked in $150,000 to the campaign.
The group, which was founded in 2013 by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-Rhode Island, and Kevin Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida, has been active in opposing legalization efforts in other states.
Scott Greenlee, spokesman for Healthy and Productive Michigan, said his group kept an eye on the petitions as they were being delivered and figured that the pro-legalization group had gotten enough extra signatures that they would be able to easily qualify for the ballot.
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"So now we’re prepared to take our educational campaign to the voters through November," he said, adding that while the Virginia-based group provided the seed money for the anti-legalization effort, "I have no doubt that there will be a lot of other Michigan-based folks who will step up."
While millions are expected to be spent on both support and opposition of the proposal if it does make it on the ballot, that level of money hasn't materialized yet.
The group pushing the ballot proposal spent most of the $651,736 it had raised so far on paying the National Petition Management team, which collected the signatures for the ballot proposal.
And the Committee to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol is now in debt to the tune of $257,484 owed to consultants, attorneys and fund-raisers.
"We're focused right now on paying off our campaign debts. But our fund-raising continues to go strong. We have a lot of large and small donors across the state and country," Hovey said. "Ideally, we'd like to raise $8 million for the campaign, but we're aiming at between $5 million and $8 million."
If it makes the November ballot, the proposal would:
- Levy a 10% excise tax at the retail level as well as the 6% sales tax.
- Split the tax revenues with 35% going to K-12 education, 35% to roads, 15% to the communities that allow marijuana businesses in their borders and 15% to counties where marijuana businesses are located.
- Allow communities to decide whether they’ll allow marijuana businesses.
- Restrict possession of marijuana that a person can carry for recreational purposes to 2½ ounces, but individuals could keep up to 10 ounces in their homes.
- Follow the same type of licensing model that is being used for medical marijuana, which will provide for five categories of licenses — growers, processors, testers, secure transporters and dispensaries.
Voters in eight states — Colorado, California, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington — and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana in recent years. Canada has legalized marijuana for recreational use and that market is expected to start up sometime this summer. And Vermont's Legislature approved legalization last month.
The state of Arizona defeated a marijuana ballot proposal in 2016.
The Board of State Canvassers has three ballot proposal petitions to work through and will do them in the order they were received: repealing the prevailing wage, which requires union-scale wages on public construction jobs; marijuana legalization, and shifting the way district lines are drawn for state and federal offices from the political party in power in the state Legislature to an independent commission.
The Board has not set a timeline for when it will consider the three petitions.