Marijuana proponents have launched a drive to legalize the drug in Michigan.
The move makes the state the first in the Midwest to see a realistic campaign to enact full marijuana policy reform. If it succeeds, it could open the door to legalization in Illinois, Minnesota, and other corners of the region.
First the Michigan Board of Canvassers must give preliminary approval to the initiative. Then activists will have to collect more than 250,000 valid voter signatures to send the question to the state Legislature. If lawmakers approve it, it would appear on the ballot in November 2016.
Michigan voters approved MMJ in 2008
Michigan already has medical marijuana, which voters approved by a wide margin in 2008. All of the state’s counties supported that measure.
But resistance to the program has been fierce, especially from conservative local elected officials. A prosecutor in the Upper Peninsula tanked a trial last year by ranting against legal MMJ during her closing argument.
Still, the state is a solid bet for legalization. Though Republicans control the legislature and might oppose the initiative, public support for the idea appears to be widespread.
A poll released in February found Michigan’s electorate was nearly evenly split on recreational marijuana legalization, with roughly half supporting the idea and a slightly smaller portion of voters opposing it.
Voters likely to back reform
But more voters are likely to back reform by the time it reaches the ballot – if it reaches the ballot – and that means it stands a good chance of succeeding if it makes it past the legislature.
The petition would allow adults over 21 to possess small amounts of marijuana for personal or medical use. They would also be allowed to grow no more than two plants at home.
The proposal is more restrictive than similar laws passed by voters in Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C., over the last three years. For one thing, it would bar convicted felons from growing marijuana, even at home. For another, it would impose strict rules against toking in public.
“There is no point in doing this if we’re not going to be able to make it reasonable, understandable and straightforward enough that people in the general election in 2016 are going to come out and vote for it and support it,” said Matt Marsden of the Michigan Cannabis Coalition, the group behind the ballot campaign.
Marijuana proponents in neighboring Ohio are also pushing to get legalization on the 2016 ballot. That means reform could come to both the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic states in one election – not to mention the East Coast, where Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, and New York are all on track to adopt legal cannabis in the near future.