Highs and Lows: The Effects that Legalizing Marijuana Could Have on Michigan

Since the legalization of medical marijuana in 2008, eligible Michigan citizens have been able to use the drug to treat their ailments and alleviate pain. Despite the controversial nature of the plant, cannabis has helped many Michiganders with their health, and its popularity has grown. In fact, recent polls show 61 percent of citizens support legalizing recreational use of marijuana. That question will be placed before Michigan voters in November.

Given those numbers, it seems likely that recreational use will be legalized this fall, which will make Michigan the eighth state in the nation to take the leap. However, some oppose the legalization of marijuana, citing the potential damage it could do to the state. To better understand the potential risks and benefits of such a law, we must first understand the initiative appearing on November’s ballot. 

Called the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act, the initiative seeks to end the prohibition of marijuana in the state and to regulate the substance the same way alcohol is currently controlled. Under this act, adults 21 and over will be allowed to use and possess marijuana recreationally without the need for a special certification or medical justification. The act also will legalize industrial hemp cultivation and create licenses that regulate the production and sale of recreational marijuana.

Although marijuana use will be legal for adults under this act, there will still be strict regulations for those who choose to use the drug. Citizens will not be able to possess, use, or transport more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana and will only be able to possess up to 10 ounces in their homes. People also will be allowed to cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants for personal use, and the marijuana growing on those plants is not subject to the 10-ounce rule. Furthermore, users will not be allowed to give away or transfer any more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana, and such transfers must be without compensation or advertising.

In addition to the legal changes felt by individuals, approval of the ballot issue will change the marijuana business in Michigan. The act outlines six types of “marijuana establishments” that will be legal in the state if the initiative is passed. These include growers, safety-compliance facilities, processors, secure transporters, retailers and microbusinesses. Patterned after microbreweries, the microbusinesses would enable a small-scale operator to grow, package and sell the marijuana of up to 150 plants under a single license, helping small marijuana businesses to flourish in the state.

Justin Palmatier, medical cannabis expert at Lake Effect, a medical marijuana dispensary in Portage, believes support for the ballot issue will be much higher than polls show.

“I have seen a lot of strong support for the ballot issue,” Palmatier said. “I think most of the polls have been skewed because of the demographics of people taking the polls. I would put the approval rate more about 80 percent.”

If the initiative is approved, Palmatier said Lake Effect is geared up to expand from medical marijuana to recreational – and beyond. Some dieticians are comparing the vitamins and other nutritional values in cannabis to kale, and Palmatier wants to tap into that market as well.

“After recreational sales, we plan to go into nutritional marijuana,” Palmatier explained. “People are just realizing marijuana’s benefits to society, including the nutritional value to it. The plant itself is one of the most underrated sources of nutrition.” 

If the ballot issue is approved in November, Michigan will both reap the benefits and face the consequences that might come with recreational marijuana use. While we can’t predict what will happen here in Michigan, we can learn from states like Colorado and Washington, where recreational use of marijuana is legal. 

Since legalizing marijuana in 2012, Colorado and Washington have seen significant economic growth related to the cannabis industry. In 2014, revenue from taxes and fees in Colorado has increased each year, from $76 million in 2014 to $200 million last year, and the state is on track to beat that this year, according to VS Strategies. Washington saw similar growth, gaining $83 million in the first year after legalization. A 2015 study found that marijuana was the fastest-growing industry in the country, expanding from $1.5 billion in 2013 to $2.7 billion in 2014.

An interesting case in support of the legalization of marijuana is Colorado’s Pueblo County. Based on a study conducted by Colorado State University-Pueblo, the county’s local economy gained $58 million from taxing marijuana sales. This additional revenue was used, in part, to fund scholarships for students. In 2017, the county offered 210 scholarships that amounted to $420,000, and the county planned to triple the number of offerings for 2018. Additionally, Colorado saw a 6 percent increase in property values for municipalities with retail marijuana outlets. A report in the Journal of Public Health recorded a 6.5 percent reduction in deaths from opioid overdoses in Colorado during 2014, and both Colorado and Washington have seen declining rates of marijuana use among minors.

Lake Effect’s Palmatier has seen the growth in Michigan’s economy with the establishment of the medical marijuana industry and predicted the legalization movement will only continue to improve the state’s financial outlook.

“I think it will have a great effect on our economy and we will see this huge surge of money being placed into recreational production,” Palmatier said. “In addition, there is a residency clause in the licensing (of recreational sales establishments), so all the money will stay in Michigan.”

While these numbers are certainly encouraging and speak to the benefits legalizing marijuana could bring to Michigan, there is also evidence that recreational marijuana has negatively impacted states where the drug is legal. One such impact is the increase of babies born THC-positive. While it is not known exactly what marijuana does to a fetus because it is nearly impossible to test, scientists believe that the drug might stunt growth for developing babies. The slowing effect that marijuana has on cancer growth can also impact the growth of a fetus, leading to underdeveloped and underweight newborns.

Additionally, the new laws that come with legalizing recreational marijuana can place a great deal of strain on law enforcement. Because laws surrounding marijuana change so rapidly, law enforcement officers and citizens often don’t know what is and what is not legal, which can lead to increased arrests for cannabis-related crimes, as happened in Washington after the drug was legalized. Recreational marijuana can also lead to more impaired drivers and an increase of accidents and arrests. 

Ultimately it will be up to  Michigan voters to decide the future of the legal recreational use of marijuana, and casting a ballot on Nov. 6 will let their voices be heard.

 

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