PROPOSAL 1 Up For Voter Approval November 6th

Cannabis Should be Legally Regulated for Adults

Posted In: Politics, , State, Local,   From Issue 869   By: Greg Schmid

18th October, 2018     0

Michigan voters face an historic choice November 6. Should Cannabis be legal and regulated for adults in limited amounts under limited circumstances? Proposal 1 would regulate cannabis possession for adults away from kids, cars, and the public. Currently, marijuana possession 1st offense is a misdemeanor, with up to one-year in jail and $2,000 in fines.

Proposal 1 would remove penalties for small amounts and impose a 10% sin tax on cannabis sales, plus 6% sales tax. It would forbid any cannabis sales except through state and locally licensed businesses. Licensed shop owners won’t get rich either; the IRS forbids normal business tax deductions so about 80% of store profits will go straight into the public treasury. Prop 1 would protect landlords who don’t want cannabis on their property, protect employers with workplace drug policies, keep cannabis away from schools, and provide for drugged driving arrests for abusers. Proposal 1 would also legalize the cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of industrial hemp and hemp products, which are not intoxicating.

As an attorney I have watched many lives ruined due to marijuana law enforcement, but if you factor out the black market (where some dealers also offer hard drugs) cannabis itself poses no public safety threat; it is not itself a gateway drug, is not addictive, and is not harmful to humans. Cannabis is almost as popular as beer, and less fattening. Alcohol prohibition ended 85 years ago, and it is finally time to end prohibition of cannabis.

As a Republican and civil libertarian my view is that limited government, based on personal liberty and rule of law, should not try to account for tastes. Laws that don’t respect people breed people who don’t respect laws. These are the core reasons for voting yes on Proposal 1.

Short History of Prohibition

Prior to being declared illegal, cannabis and hemp had long histories of medical and industrial uses.   Cannabis has been an illicit substance for about a century, and as American alcohol prohibition was being relegated to the dustbin of history in the 1930’s, cannabis prohibition was just picking up steam. In the beginning cannabis prohibition was motivated by industrial interests (hemp was serious competition for Hearst paper and Dupont oil) and was publicly driven by a xenophobic “us versus them” anti-migrant sentiment.

Alcohol was a popular American tradition, but even though cannabis never posed any real health threat, reefer madness flourished because cannabis was obscure, and not a traditional Caucasian past-time.  Like Communism during the McCarthyism days, cannabis was conveniently branded as foreign; Americans would not openly defend anything associated with Poncho Villa and the Mexican American war. Ultimately, marijuana prohibition morphed into a cultural dividing point in the tumultuous anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements, and marijuana laws were exploited by the Nixon administration to control war protesters and black activists.

Prohibition almost fell apart during the Nixon Administration when the Schaefer Commission recommended legalization. Michigan’s Supreme court actually invalidated all Marijuana prohibition laws at one point, but the legislature soon filled that vacuum with a new set of Marijuana statutes. Then Nancy Reagan promoted a War on Drugs with her “just say no” campaign, and then a generation of DARE programs turned back the clock. The next decades saw Marijuana law enforcement become a “going concern” for the criminal justice system, with millions of arrests for possession based on a financial foundation of enhanced controlled substance law enforcement budgets and property forfeitures that focused not only on kingpins, but on literally emptying the pockets of poor people caught with small amounts.

At the turn of the century California and other states started the process of decriminalization for medical marijuana use, but did not tackle the legal distribution dilemma due to the “commerce clause” problem that allowed the federal marijuana laws to pre-empt state marijuana laws as they relate to cannabis. Since that time most states have approved medical marijuana use, and the federal government has honored those states decisions for the most part, in part because the congress has withheld funds for marijuana law enforcement for compliant medical marijuana shops, but also because law enforcement has started to move on to important things like human trafficking and the opioid crisis.

Medical Marijuana Program

Medical marijuana laws have opened the eyes of the medical community and the public over the past two decades, and cannabis is now appreciated for its many traditional medical use as an alternative to pharmaceutical narcotics for pain and relief from inflammation, treatment of PTSD for veterans, and to address wasting syndrome associated with cancer and AIDS.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Act was passed in 2008, and it slowly developed into a model of caregiving and compassionate cannabis use. This law helped; the American Society for Addiction Medicine, which is not an advocate for legalization, acknowledges that opioid overdose death rates are 25 percent lower in states with legal medical marijuana. After 2008 a state registry was established by the state so that cannabis patients could receive a medical card in consultation with their physician, and then associate with a grower (caregiver) for a limited supply of 2 ½ ounces. The law did not allow commercial sales of marijuana; caregivers are limited to having 5 patients to whom they supply marijuana. According to the official reports, during Fiscal Year 2017, there were a total of 152,434 applications filed for medical marihuana registry identification cards, with a total of 1,652 physicians who provided written certifications for qualifying medical marihuana patients, based almost always on severe and chronic pain, severe and persistent muscle spasms, or severe nausea.

In 2016 the legislature passed a law to allow for commercial dispensaries, called “provisioning centers” and this law has set up a complex system of growers, processors, provisioning centers, secure transporters, and quality testing facilities. Applications for these licenses are many, but the current medical marijuana licensing scheme is very difficult for would-be providers. Michigan has the most onerous licensing scheme in the nation, with commercial applicants subjected to background checks that most Fortune 500 companies could not stand. More than 700 applications for medical marijuana licenses have been submitted to the state, but only 37 have been granted, and a politically appointed board is ultimately in charge of who gets a license and who is denied. Most applications have been denied so far, and many current shops will be forced by the state to close in late October, ironically on the eve of the Proposal 1 vote to make marijuana regulated and legal for adults over 21.

Many observers believe that the 2016 MMMA law was set up with full adult legalization in mind. The GOP dominated legislature passed the law, and when Prop 1 becomes law it is very likely that the legislature would choose to amend their early version to coincide with Proposal 1 (It would take a ¾ vote to adapt Proposal 1 to the MMMA if Prop 1 is approved by the voters).

Public Support

On September 11 the Detroit News survey was published. By a margin of 56.2 percent-38.0 percent, Michigan voters support legalizing recreational marijuana. Only 5.8 percent of voters remain undecided. These numbers have remained consistent for the past two years. A week later, the Detroit Free Press published their own report that the proposal that would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use is leading 55-41 percent, in another poll of 600 active and likely voters that was taken Sept. 21-25. Canada has legalized recreational marijuana use at the national level. Canada’s national legalization goes into effect October 17, 2018. 31 states (including Michigan) have comprehensive medical marijuana programs, and nine states also have authorized regulated adult use.

Government Opposition and Support

The main opposition strategy employed to defeat Proposal 1 involves an organized effort to convince local governments to adopt resolutions opposing legalizing marijuana. This is a legally questionable tactic for the public bodies involved, since they are technically skirting laws that prohibit using taxpayer resources to defeat ballot measures. Thomas Jefferson wrote, "To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."

Michigan prohibits public bodies from engaging in electioneering by MCL 169.257, but that law exempts the expression of views by an elected or appointed public official who has policy making responsibilities. An elected or appointed public official or an employee of a public body who, when not acting for a public body but is on his or her own personal time, is expressing his or her own personal views, is expending his or her own personal funds, or is providing his or her own personal volunteer services.

It is the policy of this state that a public body shall maintain strict neutrality in each election and that a public body or a person acting on behalf of a public body shall not attempt to influence the outcome of an election held in the state. If there is a perceived ambiguity in the interpretation of section 57, that section shall be construed to best effectuate the policy of strict neutrality by a public body in an election.

When the public body acts collectively and makes an official resolution to oppose Proposal 1, they are probably crossing the line between expression and illegal electioneering, and when public employees on duty or in uniform speak against Proposal 1 they are committing a crime because they are exploiting their legal authority. A website called www.onyourdime.org documents and collects reports of this sort of abuse of the public trust by government actors and offers an online way for citizens to allow citizens drop a dime on abusers, and to report corrupt practices anonymously.

At the same time, a great many municipalities (79 and counting) have stepped forward to support the new marijuana industry, and have passed local ordinances to allow facilities to operate. See the official list at this link: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/lara/Municipality_Opt-In_Spreadsheet_2-16-18_614253_7.pdf

Law Enforcement Opposition and New Attitudes

Ask a line officer about marijuana and you might be surprised to hear their private answers about the pointless futility of the Drug War. They do their jobs and arrest people for Marijuana possession because it is against the law, but increasingly they admit marijuana itself is the least of society’s problems.

A Pew Research poll from 2017 found that over two-thirds of police officers believe that marijuana should be legal in some form. 32 percent of U.S. police officers support recreational legalization, and another 37 percent believe it should be legal medically only. That number is slightly lower than the American population at large, 84 percent of whom believe marijuana should be legal in some way. But it’s still a clear law enforcement majority who support legalization efforts. Today more and more public officials are breaking the mold publicly.

Carol Siemon is the Ingham County prosecutor. She endorsed Prop 1 this past week, writing that, “I am not encouraging a yes vote because I am pro-marijuana. I’m pro-smart public policy and against wasting tax dollars to continue supporting a law that has completely failed to stop people from consuming [marijuana].” She continues, “Marijuana prohibition hasn’t worked and continuing to enforce this failed law is an exercise in futility. The cost is too high in so many ways. It’s time to draw this industry out of the black market, regulate and tax it, and free up law enforcement resources to concentrate on serious issues that truly impact our state’s quality of life — issues like the opioid epidemic, guns, domestic violence, and other violent crime.”

Howard Wooldridge is a former Texas detective who’s become a minor celebrity for his marijuana advocacy. Wooldridge attends the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) every year, and he pushes others at the conference to support marijuana legalization. “The War on Drugs has been the most destructive, dysfunctional and immoral policy since slavery and Jim Crow”

On Thursday, October 25th at 5:30 pm Wooldridge will present his case at a free Saginaw speaking event at Bourbon & Co., at 118 E. Genesee in the Bancroft Complex, with its entrance on Genesee Street.

“My profession needs to chase bad guys and real criminals and we're wasting lots of time chasing a green plant,” says Wooldridge. “It comes down to public safety.  We need to be going after the deadly drunk driver, we need to be going after the pedophiles on social media, terrorists, whatever and we're wasting hundreds of thousands of hours in Michigan looking for a green plant under some kid’s front seat.”

“Certainly, it's not going to be legal for a 14 year old, it's going to be 21 and over just like alcohol. Now teenagers get a hold of alcohol quite easily as they do marijuana, so the idea that legalizing is going to have a negative impact on our children is based on zero research,” said Wooldridge.

Other law enforcement agencies take a negative view of Prop 1. Police and prosecutors from Mid-Michigan held presentations against legalizing marijuana at a recent news conference in Frankenmuth and at several similar events around the state. The City of Monroe, Carleton Village Police, officers from Erie, Milan, South Rockwood and Michigan State Police of the Monroe post also presented at events.

The events were put together by a group called Healthy and Productive Michigan, a ballot committee financed by SMART, a Washington DC think tank that coordinates, with the help of the office of the Federal Drug Czar, to defeat state level marijuana voter initiatives all over the country. Caro Police Chief Brian Newcomb said their goal is to reach people who are undecided about Proposal 18-1 in November. He pointed out many people already are strongly for or against the proposal.

“We predict recreational marijuana will lead to an increase in traffic accidents resulting in more fatalities,” said Chief Assistant Prosecutor Michael G. Roehrig. But according to Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon, who has endorsed Prop 1, “The states of Washington and Colorado have each studied teen marijuana use. Neither has seen a post-legalization increase in teen consumption. Indeed, a June 2016 study by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that the number of teens using marijuana is falling as more states legalize or decriminalize marijuana.

Looking at data from Washington and Colorado, the American Journal of Public Health reports no statistical difference in auto accident fatality rates in those states compared to similar states without recreational marijuana legalization.” She continues, “Our office currently prosecutes drivers who are under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, and other controlled substances. Under legalization, we would continue this practice. Just as with alcohol and other drugs, our office will continue to find substance abuse treatment programming for those in need.”

Down at street level, Marijuana arrests continue to rise in the U.S. in 2017 even though more states are legalizing cannabis, new FBI data shows. The increase is driven by a rise in possession arrests - arrests for sales and manufacturing were down. Michigan State Police are instituting pilot programs for handheld devices that test swabs of saliva on the spot for marijuana, amphetamine, benzodiazepines, cocaine, methamphetamine and opiates. The devices also only record active THC, so results would be negative for individuals who used marijuana in previous days. This may or may not be a conscious push-back by the government against legalization efforts.

Taxes

Ultimately, the 10% excise tax established by the proposal would go as follows:

  • 15 percent to municipalities with retail stores and microbusinesses, allocated
    in proportion to the number of facilities in each municipality.
  • 15 percent to counties with retail stores, allocated in proportion to the number of facilities.
  • 35 percent to the School Aid Fund.
  • 35 percent to the Michigan Transportation Fund.

The 6% Sales tax revenue from marijuana sales would follow the usual disposition for the state sales tax (with 73% directed to the School Aid Fund). Marijuana businesses and employees of marijuana businesses would pay the usual local, state, and federal taxes.

Marijuana businesses would be considered illegal under federal law and could not access federal tax write-offs. IRS rule 280 E says businesses that engage in drug trafficking are not able to claim normal business deductions but can deduct the “cost of goods sold”, so sellers will pay 70-80% of their gross profits to the IRS.

It is expected that federal marijuana laws are going to be repealed, or that cannabis will at least be rescheduled, within the next year or so, so these business tax burdens should be normalized over time, but to date there is no consensus on how profitable the legal marijuana business should be. This comes as no surprise when you consider that cannabis is just a vegetable crop, called weed because of how easy it is to grow, and expensive only because its supply is kept low due to prohibition. Marijuana should cost about as much as hay.

Conclusion

You don’t need to love Marijuana to hate prohibition. Laws against cannabis make liars and criminals out of people who are neither. They corrupt law enforcement and make murderous transnational cartels rich. They do not respect individual choices about whether a person privately drinks alcohol or smokes marijuana, or both. We do not live in a society that demonizes mild intoxication – most people engage in some form of self-medication for relief from the very real stresses of human existence, including the pharmaceutical drugs our trusted physicians prescribe for anxiety, sleep disorder, attention deficit disorder, and pain relief.

Proposal 1 will not solve all the worlds problems, but it is a step in the right direction to curb government overreach and an honest humane approach to drug use, and abuse, which should always be viewed as public health issue, and never as a crime.

Freedom loving Americans are wired by our constitutional traditions to respect each other enough to accept one another’s personal differences.

Vote Yes on Proposal 1 and be part of the solution and bring peace to the war on drugs.

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