Voters could decide on statewide marijuana legalization in 2016

Posted at 9:11 PM, Mar 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-16 22:22:50-04

LANSING, Mich. -- A recently formed coalition is preparing to collect signatures to get marijuana legalization on the statewide ballot in 2016.

Jeffrey Hank, chairman for the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Initiative, told FOX 17 the proposal will aim to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana growth and use for recreational purposes. Hank said the proposal will also preserve the existing policies for medical marijuana use.

“We’re going to end criminal punishment for any sort of marijuana possession or use, except for when someone distributes to a minor," he told FOX 17 by phone on Monday.

The ballot proposal will mirror Colorado's marijuana laws -- learning from that state's best practices -- and would allow an individual to grow up to 12 plants legally, Hank said.

If passed, the state would treat pot like alcohol, allowing use only for adults 21 years and older. Hank said the committee estimates an additional 25,000 jobs would be created in the state, along with $200 million in new annual tax revenue, if voters approve legalization.

New state revenue could be used for road repairs and education funding, Hank said. The committee also estimates nearly $300 million in annual savings statewide for law enforcement agencies because they would not have to enforce pot prohibitions.

Colorado took in more than $50 million in revenue from taxes and licensing fees on marijuana in 2014.

“The money is just too big now," Hank said. "The majority of people don’t believe marijuana should be illegal. So, for the legislature or anyone to ignore a potentially half billion dollar windfall, it’s just bound to happen.”

A ballot proposal in 2016 would ride the wave of recent decriminalization efforts in cities across the state. In Michigan more than a dozen cities, including Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, have decriminalized marijuana use. Those cities treat pot possession as a civil infraction rather than a criminal offense.

In Michigan, more than a dozen cities including Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo have decriminalized marijuana use.

Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Michael Tuffelmire, who served as director for DeCriminalizeGR back in 2012, echoed claims that legalization would help free up law enforcement resources.

"I think going in the direction of legalization is a further step in alleviating police officers from petty marijuana crimes," he said.

Since decriminalization began in Grand Rapids in 2013, the Grand Rapids Police Department has seen a substantial decrease in marijuana related cases.

In 2011, the department dealt with 810 marijuana related cases, with 747 of those resulting in arrests and incarceration, according to Lt. Pat Merrill. The number of similar cases in 2014 was just 98, with all of those cases involving criminal activity beyond the realm of decriminalization, according to Merrill.

Source: Grand Rapids Police Dept.

“We’re further looking at drug policy and what’s working and what’s not," Tuffelmire said, "I think a lot of people, including legislators, are seeing that the old laws are sort of archaic and just not working."

The Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Initiative is working now to finalize the language of the ballot proposal. Hank said the group hopes to begin collecting the 250,000 signatures needed this summer.

“The time is now," he said. "Our polling shows that more than majority of people support this already."

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the state's top law enforcement official, has consistently opposed the idea of decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

A spokesperson told FOX 17 on Monday the attorney general's office remains adamant about keeping drugs out of the hands of kids.