As Michigan legalizes marijuana, the race is on with Illinois for 1st commercial sales in Midwest
When Michigan legalized possession of marijuana Thursday, the drug joined craft beers, perfect summers and the Upper Peninsula as tourist attractions for out-of-staters.
But Illinoisans should know that, as of now, there is nowhere they can buy marijuana legally in "Pure Michigan," as the state's tourism ads put it. Until businesses are licensed -- which could take more than a year -- the drug remains illegal to sell to the general public, illegal to consume in public and illegal to take across state lines.
Those contradictions in the law, as well as the conflict with the ongoing federal ban on pot possession, could mean real problems for both residents and visitors, opponents warned.
But Michigan's experiment could serve as a blueprint for Illinois' own efforts toward legalization, though it's possible that Illinois could actually roll out legal recreational weed first, if all falls into place.
In Michigan, commercial production and sales will be allowed only after state regulators draw up rules to determine who will be licensed and how, which is expected to take months if not more than a year, plus time for businesses to open. But as the first state in the Midwest to legalize the drug, advocates expect a wave of visitors looking to get high, despite the social conservatism of the Rust Belt.
"I bet we'll see quite a bit of tourism," Michigan medical marijuana grower Debra Young said. "People go to Colorado and Las Vegas. A lot of people went across the border when Canada legalized it."
Since the state approved medical marijuana in 2008, Young said, "It's kind of normalized in Michigan. People are not shocked."
After years of campaigning to change the law, pot users plan to party when possession of up to 2.5 ounces of the drug becomes legal for adults 21 and older. Citizens approved the proposition by referendum in November, with 56 percent voting yes.
To mark the occasion Thursday night, a business called Elevated Yogi will host a pre-yoga smoking session at its studio in Detroit, owner Leonard Coklow said. The studio does not provide the product, but typically lets medical marijuana card holders bring their own. While patients may not share their medicine, the new law allows the drug to be shared for free, so the practice will no longer be legally limited to patients.
"Everybody will be able to participate," Coklow said. "Stuff ends up getting passed around. It's like a potluck, basically."
Attorney Matt Abel of Cannabis Counsel, which specializes in marijuana law, plans to hold a party in his law office in the same building.
"It's time for people to invite friends and share a joint with them," he said.
Despite the celebrations, the fight over revisions to the law continues in the state legislature, possibly mirroring battles to come in Springfield as Illinois lawmakers try to hash out a legalization bill to send to J.B. Pritzker when he becomes governor.
Republican Michigan state Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, who will be forced out of office by term limits at the end of the year, has proposed major changes.
He would eliminate a provision that lets people grow up to 12 plants at home. He would also lower the tax rate from 10 percent to 3 percent, and send more of the revenue to local governments and law enforcements agencies and less to roads and schools.
The president of prohibitionist group Healthy and Productive Michigan, Scott Greenlee, sees the changes as much-needed "damage control" to the new law. Activists see them as a slap in the face by lame-duck lawmakers to voters who approved the new law. Despite a Republican majority in the statehouse, it would take a three-fourths supermajority to pass the measure, so it's not clear if it will have the votes.
As with the state's medical marijuana law, the new law allows local governments to regulate, ban or limit the numbers of marijuana businesses, and some towns have already opted out.
Visitors should also be aware that operating a motor vehicle, boat or snowmobile while under the influence of any amount of marijuana remains illegal in Michigan. And despite the new law, employers may still fire marijuana users.
State regulators must also draw up rules governing advertising and marketing, labeling and packaging. They promise strong restrictions to prevent marketing to children, and estimate the industry will generate $738 million in tax revenue by 2023.
In Illinois, where Pritzker supports legalizing marijuana, advocates hope to pass a bill that would take effect in late 2019 or early 2020.
While 10 states have now legalized recreational cannabis, most are on the West and East coasts. That means the race is on with Michigan to become the first state in the Midwest to license commercial sales, said activist Dan Linn, of the Illinois chapter of marijuana policy reform group NORML.
"Absolutely, there is going to be that first-mover advantage for tourism dollars and buyers crossing the border," he said. The laws and tax rates will play a role in determining market share, he said, as they do now with Illinoisans going to Indiana for cigarettes and fireworks.
As Illinois did this year, Michigan also now allows the cultivation of industrial hemp, a crop that boasts a range of uses including for paper, textiles and insulation. Legalizing hemp nationally is also a part of the proposed federal farm bill.
Greenlee, whose group opposes legalization, emphasized that all state marijuana legalization laws contradict federal law, which Congress has chosen to stand by and which still prohibits possession.
"It doesn't make sense," Greenlee said. "States have started picking and choosing which federal law they're going to enforce or ignore."
Advocates say it's long past time to reverse a damaging, racist and futile war on drugs, to undercut the black market and to generate tax revenue by taxing and regulating cannabis like alcohol. Supporters argue that marijuana has much lower rates of addiction than alcohol or cigarettes, has medical benefits and doesn't cause fatal overdoses, unlike legal and prescription drugs that kill tens of thousands of people every year.
"It's taking a long time for prohibition to die," said Abel, the attorney. "There's still a lot of resistance and there will be, but it's not like it was 10 years ago."
Original Article by 420intel