Pro-, anti-marijuana groups debate legalization
Initiative to decriminalize drug will be on Michigan’s November ballot.
Article by Danielle Nelson editor at Grand Rapids Business Journal
May 4, 2018
When Michigan voters go to the polls this November, they will have an opportunity to change the landscape of marijuana consumption in the Midwest.
The Michigan State Board of Canvassers certified the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol petition in April after the group gathered 365,000 signatures from Michigan residents.
“This November, Michigan voters will finally get the chance to eliminate Michigan’s outdated marijuana laws,” Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spokesperson John Truscott said. “Just like with alcohol, it is clear that prohibition doesn’t work and that regulation and taxation is a far better solution.”
If the initiative is approved, marijuana would be treated like alcohol, which will legally allow adults 21 and older to consume it. The other proposal in the initiative will allow lawful cultivation and sale of marijuana and industrial hemp, permit the taxation of revenue from commercial marijuana facilities, permit the promulgation of administrative rules and enforce penalties for individuals who violate the proposed law.
Rebecca Neil is the owner of Paradigm Wellness in Grand Haven. She said she helped to garner signatures in Ottawa County by providing a space at her practice where residents could sign up.
Neil was motivated to ensure recreational marijuana was on the ballot for both personal and professional reasons. She said she was recently diagnosed with epilepsy after years of visiting several neurologists.
“I would have seizures upwards of six to eight times a day,” Neil said. “So in the medication I take, from the conventional wisdom, doesn’t do anything. So, when I consume cannabis over Keppra, which is the pharmaceutical medication, I see substantial relief and I don’t have it nearly as much.”
Working in the wellness industry, Neil said she tried to obtain a medical marijuana license, but she was unable to do so because her local municipality, Grand Haven, did not opt-in.
If Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol receives a majority of the votes, Neil said she hopes to open her own dispensary and to educate the public about the benefits of marijuana because she believes the public is nervous about the idea.
“I think half the problem is that no one wants to use their voice because they might be at risk of losing their jobs if they are a police officer, a doctor or a lawyer,” Neil said. “So people’s jobs are genuinely put on the line, and that is why I think we don’t have the advocacy behind us.
“The new initiative will allow people to use their voice and say, ‘Hey, I am for this.’ I think recreational marijuana is going to give people the opportunity to come out and support it. Their jobs will no longer be at stake if you are consuming it on the weekend.”
McGraw said the cannabis industry is no longer hiding in the shadows and the industry is only trending upward.
“A lot of our (government) representatives who may be a little older are starting to fall apart, their dogma as far as cannabis being the reefer madness era,” McGraw said. “They are categorizing cannabis as a dangerous drug, but no one believes it anymore — 75 percent of people in the United States are against prohibition.
“Putting people in jail and ruining their lives over cannabis only further damages their lives. People are now realizing that cannabis saves people’s lives, and it is the perfect substitute for highly addictive pharmaceutical drugs like opioids.”
Despite McGraw and Neil’s unwavering belief in the benefit of marijuana, Matthew Yascolt, director of Healthy and Productive Michigan, said there are residents across Michigan who oppose the idea.
“We believe in upholding federal law, and if Michigan allows its citizens to break federal law, we are putting Michiganders in an unclear situation,” Yascolt said. “We hear this false dichotomy that there are only two stances on this issue, incarceration or legalization. We firmly believe that there is a better alternative to incarceration and there is a better way forward than legalization.
“There are alternatives to incarceration for marijuana possession currently implemented in Michigan. Often, law enforcement does not issue arrests for marijuana possession, however, if a defendant were to go in front of a judge, commonly diversion programs are implemented, such as drug court. We believe Michigan must continue to implement programs such as drug court mandating an individual seek treatment or other diversion programs instead of creating a market for legal drugs. The bottom line is making more drugs more accessible is not going to help Michigan.”