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Pot Proposals Primed For Petition Gathering

June 15, 2015

The petition language for different marijuana legalization proposals were approved by the Board of State Canvassers (BSC) Thursday, clearing the groups backing the initiatives to begin signature collecting. 

The Michigan Cannabis Coalition (MCC), fronted by former Senate staffer Matt MARSDEN, is one group.  

The other is the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee – also calling themselves MILegalize – which is led by Lansing attorney Jeffrey HANK.

Both petitions call for initiated legislation that would legalize consuming, growing and selling marijuana for people 21 years of age or older. But the petitions go about regulating and taxing the plant and the facilities selling it differently. 

Both groups said Thursday they’d begin collecting signatures in the near future. And both said they would be recruiting volunteers and paying people to collect signatures, and both said they plan on fundraising from a wide variety of sources. 

State law calls for initiated legislation petitions to garner 252,523 signatures in a 180-day window before June 1, 2016. If the initiative is approved by the BSC, it goes to the Legislature, and if the Legislature doesn’t approve it, it goes to a vote of the people in November 2016. 

Both the MCC and MILegalize insisted it had the more comprehensive proposal. 

Hank noted MILegalize’s legislation allows people to grow more plants than permitted under MCC’s legislation, although the MCC version allows municipalities to create a special permit to allow for more. 

In MILegalize’s legislation, regulations around licensing marijuana facilities fall to local jurisdictions for the most part. In the MCC proposal, those abilities are given to a proposed board known as the Michigan Cannabis Control Board, made up of paid people appointed by the Governor and legislative leadership. 

Hank criticized the state board model, saying MILegalize’s proposal is the more small business-friendly approach. Yet, MCC attorney John PIRICH said the model is similar to how the state has gone about regulating liquor or gaming. 

And the groups differ on how to go about taxing the plants. MILegalize specifically calls for a 10 percent excise tax on marijuana sales, which can be lowered by the Legislature, but not increased. 

MILegalize also dictates the revenue from those taxes be split up 40 percent to the Michigan Department of Transportation, 40 percent to the School Aid Fund and 20 percent to the local government where the marijuana establishment is based. 

The MCC proposal is broader, saying the Legislature may establish a tax on the sale of marijuana and any taxes paid shall be used for administering the marijuana law, education, public safety and public health. 

Marsden said the idea is to let those in charge of setting taxes take care of that, rather than have it in the language. He also put much emphasis today on the revenue stream the state could generate. 

Marsden said the MCC proposal is simpler and doesn’t divert off into other areas like MILegalize’s petition does. 

“We ask a simple question: Do you want to legalize recreational marijuana, regulate it, tax it, and generate revenue from people that are 21 years of age or older,” Marsden said. “We don’t get into setting criminal statute, we don’t get into setting tax rates.” 

The canvassers voted unanimously to approve both petitions to form, although they had reservations with the petitions submitted by MILegalize, questioning the readability of the text since the petition smashed the ballot language on a single sheet using a small font size. 

The state Bureau of Elections didn’t recommend one version of the MILegalize petition for approval, but a different version submitted by the group was OKed by the state, which was the one the BSC ended up approving. 

But several BSC members still lamented the readability of that version, with member Julie MATUZAK calling it a “terrible disservice” to voters. 

Asked if he would be advocating for voters not to sign the other group’s petition, Marsden said, “If they can read it, maybe they’ll sign it. I think they can see what ours says pretty clearly, so I wish them the best of luck, man.” 

Both groups have expressed confidence in their proposals. 

Yesterday, MILegalize issued a press release where Hank said, “We are the most formidable cannabis reform campaign ever formed in US history and no other group can match our expertise.” 

When asked what happens when multiple marijuana proposals make it to the ballot in 2016, Marsden said, “I think there’s only going to be one group on the ballot,” referring to his own. 

When asked the same question, Hank just said he hopes legalization happens in 2016, and that his group is the one to do it. 

Pirich said if multiple issues make it to the ballot and they all tend to involve the same issue, the one that gets the most votes is the one that prevails. 

However, the MCC and MILegalize are not alone in pushing pot proposals. 

A third group calling itself the Michigan Responsibility Council, led in part by Paul WELDAY and Suzy MITCHELL, is still considering pushing its own ballot proposal, although a final decision hasn’t been made on that yet, Welday said today. 

Welday said the group is still studying the issue and hopes to make a decision on how it wants to proceed soon. 

He didn’t rule out endorsing the other two proposals approved to form today. But based on some of the questions he says the initiatives don’t answer, that doesn’t appear to be the direction the council is headed. 

“There’s just a lot of questions that remain for the two proposals that are on the table today,” Welday said.

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