The game may be a little longer than it is in some other parts of the country, but marijuana activists are working hard to bring legalization to Michigan in the not-so-distant future.
While a number of states are looking to the elections this November and in 2016 as prime opportunities to put legal pot before voters, Michigan advocates are looking further down the road, to 2018.
That’s when the Safer Michigan Coalition, a pro-weed group, hopes to put the issue on the ballot.
“I’d say that in 2018 there is not a doubt in my mind that we will be at that level,” said Tim Beck, co-founder of the organization.
Beck led the campaign to get medical marijuana on the Michigan ballot in 2008. Voters passed the measure by 63 percent, though the program has run into repeated problems with police and the judiciary, who largely refuse to acknowledge MMJ’s legitimacy.
Now, however, the tide is turning and attitudes about marijuana have changed dramatically, in Michigan and elsewhere. A poll released last fall showed 62 percent of the state’s residents want to legalize or decriminalize cannabis.
Two states have legalized all marijuana: Colorado and Washington. The first retail pot shops opened to great success in Colorado Jan. 1. Another 19 states allow medical marijuana, and they could be joined by Florida in the fall. Polls nationwide show broad majority support for making weed legal.
Michigan currently has especially hard anti-marijuana laws. Possession of any amount is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a fine of $2,000. That’s comparable to the harshest penalties in the Deep South. The state, in other words, is ripe for reform.
Hopefully residents won’t have to wait a full four years to see it happen. Lawmakers are also pushing for legalization in the state legislature. Rep. Jeff Irwin, a Democrat, is writing a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana.
“Residents in Michigan know that marijuana prohibition isn’t working, it’s incredibly costly, and the drug war is a war against our own people that we pay for dearly,” he said.
Irwin said the push for legalization at the capitol would likely take a while, so in the meantime he’ll try to decriminalize the drug instead. That means criminal penalties, including jail time, would be removed and replaced with a small civil fine similar to a parking ticket.
Beck is currently working along the same lines. In recent years several Michigan cities have acted on their own to decriminalize pot, usually by instructing their police departments not to enforce state anti-weed laws. These efforts have had mixed success, with some police chiefs saying they’ll ignore these policies and continue busting tokers.
But Beck plans to target more towns in coming years, and the more that turn green, the easier it will be to win over the entire state. That’s the hope, anyway.