After the legalization of recreational marijuana, here’s what people want to know

Published 9:35 am Thursday, November 8, 2018

By KATHLEEN GRAY Detroit Free Press

With a last minute infusion of cash and support that was baked into Proposal 1 from the start, voters decided to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use Tuesday by a comfortable 56- to 44-percent margin, becoming the first state in the Midwest to free the weed.

But voters shouldn’t conclude that marijuana will be readily available or an instant presence on the streets of cities across the state.

When will marijuana be legal?

Ten days after the election results are certified, which should be by early December. But marijuana won’t be commercially available for sale until probably early 2020, in part because the state must still put regulations in place and issue licenses for recreational sales. “It’s not going to be an earth-shattering change,” said Jeffrey Hank, the East Lansing attorney who was one of the leaders of the effort to get the legalization question on the ballot. But after certification, “adults will no longer be arrested for simple possession and use of marijuana.”

How much marijuana can I buy or possess?

People over the age of 21 can possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot on their person or up to 10 ounces in their home, most of which will have to be locked up. And they can grow — but not sell ∏ up to 12 plants in their home for personal use.

Can I smoke marijuana in public?

Tuesday’s vote is definitely not a free pass to get high with impunity.

“There is no public consumption and no driving under the influence and there will be no commercial sales until businesses are licensed and approved,” said Josh Hovey, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol. Police will still be able to arrest people they suspect are driving under the influence of marijuana or if they’re lighting up in public. Michigan State Police and other police organizations haven’t yet worked out how their enforcement procedures will change with the legalization.

Can I be fired for using marijuana?

Landlords can still prohibit smoking and growing plants on their properties and employers can still maintain zero tolerance policies for their employees.

Where can I grow marijuana?

Don’t expect to add cannabis next to the petunias in your garden. Under the proposal, marijuana plants cannot be visible from a public place “without the use of binoculars, aircraft, or other optical aids or outside of an enclosed area equipped with locks or other functioning security devices that restrict access to the area.”

Where can you buy recreational marijuana?

The ballot proposal calls for the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to take up to a year to develop the rules and regulations that will govern the recreational marijuana industry in the state before it begins accepting applications for recreational licenses. “Our licensing and regulatory infrastructure for medical marijuana can be scaled up to incorporate the oversight of adult-use marijuana,” said Shelly Edgerton, director of LARA. “We intend to offer more details regarding the commercial production and distribution of marijuana for adult use after the Michigan Board of Canvassers certifies the election results.”

Doesn’t the state already have rules for medical marijuana?

The state does have a head start on the rules because it has created the infrastructure to begin regulating the medical marijuana industry since the Legislature passed bills to oversee and tax medical weed in 2016. The state began granting medical marijuana licenses to businesses this summer and licensed medical pot businesses will have first dibs on recreational licenses for the first two years after full legalization.

Will the rules for recreational marijuana be the same as medical marijuana?

Recreational pot will probably be subject to some different regulations. In Colorado, dispensaries that carry both medical and recreational marijuana are located in the same building, but are separated by locked doors. And marijuana for medical use can have higher THC levels — the psychoactive agent that produces the “high” for users — than recreational pot. It took Michigan’s licensing agency about eight months to develop the rules for medical cannabis once the new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation was up and running in April 2017. Since then, the bureau has made many modifications to those rules. Because much of the regulations and licensing infrastructure is already in place, “there’s potential for things to happen a lot quicker for the recreational market,” Hovey said.

Is this the end of the marijuana debate?

While some might think the fight for legal weed is over, there could be legal challenges ahead. Scott Greenlee, director of Healthy and Productive Michigan, which formed to fight the legalization proposal, said opponents are exploring a number of avenues to thwart the vote. “Every option will be looked at because the committee feels that this is bad for Michigan,” he said. “And Michigan is part of the United States and it’s still illegal federally.” And the opponents intend to work to ensure that as few communities as possible allow legal weed in their towns.

Can the Legislature make any changes to the law now that it has passed?

Yes. The Legislature could amend the proposal but it would take a three-fourths vote to make any changes to a proposal that is passed by the electorate. Some changes that could be considered by the Legislature:

• Tweak the section that allows for people to grow up to 12 plants in their homes for personal use.

• Instead of requiring communities to vote to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses in their towns, make it so communities would automatically be considered to have opted out unless they voted to opt in.

• Some think the 10 percent excise tax, on top of the 6 percent sales tax, is too low and would like to boost that tax. The tax in Michigan’s ballot proposal would be one of the lowest of the 10 states that have now legalized marijuana for recreational use.

What about people who have marijuana convictions?

There is a bill pending in the Legislature to require judges to consider expunging the records of people convicted of many misdemeanor marijuana offenses that will no longer be crimes under the marijuana legalization. But it’s uncertain whether that would be taken up in the Republican-controlled Legislature before this legislative session ends in December. The new governor — Democrat Gretchen Whitmer — also could consider pardoning some criminal offenders. She has said she would favor some sort of expungement for low-level marijuana offenses.

In other states where legalization has passed, California, Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire and Oregon have taken steps to make it easier for people to get their convictions sealed or expunged. Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Nevada Republican, vetoed a bill last year that would have made clearing those convictions easier, saying that the bill didn’t differentiate enough between low-level and more serious crimes. (MCT)