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Legalized pot goes to the ballot, House opts not to vote

June 12, 2018

Article courtesy of MIRS News

Not only did the House Republican caucus not have the votes to legislatively adopt and amend a citizen initiative to legalize recreational use of marijuana, House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) said Tuesday he’s not convinced the state Senate really did either.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive), presented with polling showing recreational marijuana passing this fall, said he had 20 votes in the Senate to pass the marijuana legalization citizens initiative. 

Had the House passed it today, the last day of the 40-day constitutional deadline, Meekhof pledged he would have, too, giving Republican lawmakers an easier shot at amending the proposal to better regulate “home-brew” marijuana businesses, potency restriction and possession amounts. 

But the House didn’t have the votes. Inside sources project the chamber had about 40 and likely weren’t going to get any more. Democrats had presented a united front against the proposal and hardline conservatives philosophically opposed legalizing pot. 

And Leonard questioned whether the Senate had the 20 votes to pass it anyway, despite Meekhof’s claims. 

“I have to believe that if they had the votes to pass this, if they were serious, that they would have taken the vote. And they have yet to take a vote,” Leonard said. “. . . It is hard for me to believe that any leader who was serious about getting this passed, excuse me, adopting and amending this, when they never presented members with an amended version or showed us what that would look like.” 

Meekhof spokesperson Amber McCann responded to the comment with, “If Speaker Leonard wasn’t such a fan of putting something on the board to fail, the Majority Leader would have felt more comfortable putting up a vote on marijuana that depended on passage in the House.” 

McCann is referencing Leonard’s decision earlier this term to take a vote on an income tax rollback and auto insurance reforms without the needed votes to pass. 

At least one House Democrat suggested on Monday that if Republicans had agreed to not vote to approve the prevailing wage repeal initiative, he would be open to talking about legalizing marijuana. 

But House Minority Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) said nobody approached him about dealing. Even if they did, he said he suspects his asking price would have been deemed “untenable” by his Republican colleagues. Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint), likewise, said nobody talked with him, but he wasn’t under the impression Republicans were interested in dealing away prevailing wage. 

“I did not have any direct conversations,” Singh said. “Did some of my members have any conversations? That’s possible, but I think if there were serious, conversations somebody would come to me at a point in time. But they never did. 

“I think it was always a conversation about trying to shape this in a way to help a small number of Republican donors run this industry,” Singh added. “I think that’s unethical and they knew they weren’t going to get Democrats.” 

With no vote in the House or Senate to legislatively adopt the initiative put forward in a petition drive by Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA), the question now heads to the ballot. That means voters will get to decide in November whether to make pot legal here in Michigan. 

That’s good news to some. 

“We represent nine million people in this state and it shouldn’t be left to 110 legislators in the House of Reps and Senators,” said Rep. Robert Kosowski (D-Westland). “It should go to a vote of the people. That’s who we work for . . . It’s their voice. It’s their decision. Some people are telling me they want it. Other people are telling me they don’t. How can I represent my district if it is on both sides of this issue?” 

Leonard is not pleased with the prospects of legalization going on the ballot and he said he will be encouraging people to vote against it. 

“I’ve seen the problems that marijuana can cause,” Leonard said. “We have spoken to insurance companies who have been pretty clear that auto insurance rates as well as home rates are going to go up in the event that this passes. When I look at the fact that we are likely going to have more operating under the influence arrests, situations where people are being killed by those that are under the influence of marijuana, this is not a good thing for our state.” 

He said that once voters are educated about the issue, it could be defeated at the ballot box in November. 

CRMLA said that while it would have been happy to see its proposal adopted legislatively, it is confident voters “understand that marijuana prohibition has been an absolute disaster and that they will agree that taxing and regulating marijuana is a far better solution,” said CRMLA spokesperson Josh Hovey. 

He said in a statement that the organization’s goal now will be informing voters about what is in the proposal. 

“Multiple polls show that roughly 60 percent of Michigan voters want to see marijuana legalized and regulated but, as we saw with the legislative debates these past few weeks, there is still a lot of misinformation out there,” he said. “The fact is that our proposal is carefully written to be a model for responsible cannabis regulation and closely follows the medical marijuana licensing law passed by the state legislature in 2016.” 

Since the deadline was Tuesday for lawmakers to act, the deal was sealed when the House adjourned without acting. Republicans met for a short caucus before Leonard came out to announce to reporters there would be no vote. 

The House was always the challenge for legislative adoption, with Leonard consistently being against the measure and publicly questioning whether there were not enough votes in the Republican caucus to adopt the initiative. Also, House Democrats were leery of taking action, consistently wanting the citizens to vote on the measure.  

The Senate had stayed in recess through the afternoon in case House Speaker Pro Tem Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), the point person in the House, was able to put the votes together. 

Much of the argument in favor of adopting the initiative legislatively was that it could be amended with a simple majority vote with regulations that exactly mirror those of medical marijuana. If the people adopt it, the Legislature could only amend it with a three-quarters majority.

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