Michigan is decriminalizing some marijuana possession and use Dec. 6, 2018, but unless state residents are among the estimated 295,000 patients with medical marijuana cards, they will be unable to purchase cannabis legally.
Michigan residents voted by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin in the Nov. 6, 2018, election to approve Proposal 1 and legalize marijuana for adult use.
No Michigan dispensaries are currently licensed to sell the product for recreational use. That could take at least one or two years to initiate broad licensing of retail shops, processors, growers and testing labs, said legalization activist Matt Abel, a Detroit attorney who specializes in cannabis law.
However, as of Dec. 6, individual Michigan residents are allowed to grow up to 12 plants and possess 10 ounces, or 283.5 grams, for personal use in a single dwelling. Residents must store any amount over 2 1/2 ounces, or 70.9 grams, in a locked container. Home growers may give away as much as 2 1/2 ounces, but are prohibited from charging for the cannabis.
“The only people who can legally purchase marijuana are those with medical marijuana cards, and I predict more people will try to get those,” Abel told Weedmaps News. “If the state doesn't begin accepting applications to license dispensaries within one year, under the new law, cities and municipalities can start licensing them.”
Democratic Sen.-elect Jeff Irwin, the former political director for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said Michigan residents who are not medical marijuana patients or caregivers will be protected from arrest for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“Other than that, there are not many changes now,” Irwin told Weedmaps News. “The legalization war has been won. But there are still many legal skirmishes ahead over how the law will be implemented. Right now we are engaging in a new fight to protect these rights and make sure the system works for consumers and citizens.”
Irwin said legalization offers a new lease on life for many Michigan citizens convicted of marijuana offenses.
“I'm very eager now to try to undo some of the harms the drug war has done to our citizens. The mandate behind the passage of this law has created momentum to release people from prison convicted of cannabis-related crimes and to have their criminal records expunged so they can fully participate in our democracy and our economy,” he said. “Our policies have been so out of step with common sense and reality and thousands of state residents have been harmed by them.”
Josh Hovey, an executive vice president with Michigan public relations firm Truscott Rossman and a spokesman for the coalition, said the shift in law enforcement resources means that Michigan police will be able to devote more time to investigate violent crimes and do their jobs faster. In an October Citizens Research Council of Michigan analysis, the state recorded 23,893 marijuana arrests in 2015, compared with 11,916 arrests for violent crimes.
Hovey said Michigan spent $91.4 million in 2010 investigating and prosecuting marijuana possession crimes, the vast majority of which were for possessing one-quarter ounce or less, according to a Michigan State Senate analysis. He said a Washington State University study found that police agencies solved crimes faster in states that have legalized marijuana than in states where it remains a criminal offense.
“We hope to bring those benefits to Michigan,” Hovey said. “When we open, we will be one of the largest marijuana markets outside of California.”
Hovey noted that the state senate report estimated that legalizing marijuana would raise $738 million in new tax revenues over the next five years.
Kalamazoo City Attorney Clyde Robinson, the lead author of an analysis of the recreational marijuana referendum for the Michigan Municipal League, said it's likely that most of the currently licensed medical marijuana dispensaries will seek licenses to serve recreational customers because a medical marijuana license is a prerequisite for applying for a recreational-use license.
Robinson said he's already seeing local economic impact in his city.
“There are some properties that were otherwise unused and now being put to use with the plan of creating marijuana businesses,” Robinson told Weedmaps News. “And I've seen this occurring in other jurisdictions around the state.”
Robinson speculated that once they're licensed, retail stores will locate along state borders with Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. “There may be greater demand. But residents of those states should beware coming home: Marijuana is still illegal in those states and possession of it remains a federal crime.”
Michael Komorn, a Southfield attorney specializing in cannabis issues, said the state will create a regulated marketplace.
“But the more heavily regulated it is, the more potential problems it creates. This process will be more like a marathon than a sprint. Business owners know they will face challenges. There is a level of frustration for people seeking licenses,” said Komorn, who is also the president of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association. “The market expands from 300,000 to nearly seven million potential customers. The passage of Proposition 1 should be very encouraging and is a big step in the right direction.”
Komorn told Weedmaps News that the law's opponents lost, but haven't surrendered.
“Some in the state legislature are trying to cut us off at the knees right now,” Komorn said. “So we can't just ignore them. We're concerned there will be horse-trading at the legislative and regulatory levels.”
David Harns, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), said as of Dec. 1, 2018, the agency had issued 67 medical marijuana licenses, 40 to provisioning centers (what dispensaries are called in Michigan by law) and 27 to growers, processors, labs, and other businesses.
Harns said 108 of Michigan's nearly 1,800 municipalities have opted in to allow medical marijuana establishments, and 28 already have prohibited recreational marijuana ventures within their community borders as of Dec. 5, 2018.