Law enforcement in Michigan doesn’t want its citizens to have legal access to cannabis. Despite the fact enforcing laws against weed drains significant resources from the taxpayer budget, the Michigan cops and prosecutors have thrown their voices out against a ballot proposal to legalize recreational marijuana that will be put to the voters during next month’s election.
Michigan Police Are Speaking Up Against Cannabis
Last month, Michigan police departments, along with county prosecutor offices, came out publicly against a ballot Proposal 18-1 that would make it legal for individuals 21 and older to purchase, possess and use marijuana and marijuana-infused edibles, grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal consumption, and permit retail sales of marijuana and edibles contingent upon a 10% tax.
Michigan’s Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth a dismissed the state revenue arguments for legalizing cannabis a press conference, instead arguing that the ballot initiative is “about people wanting to get high, whenever they want to, however they want to.”
“This isn’t about freeing up cops, this is not about freeing up bed space, it’s not about tax revenue to the state so we can fix our roads,” Wriggelsworth said. “For us as a state to do that makes literally no sense to me whatsoever.”
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, or CRMLA, is leading the campaign in support of Proposal 1. The political action committee spokesperson John Truscott said in a statement to the press that the law enforcement officials were using “troubling scare tactics in an attempt to mislead voters.”
“We encourage an open and honest debate on this important issue,” CRMLA said. “Unfortunately, that’s now what we can see from who have chosen to confuse the public with dubious or contested statistics rather than discuss facts.”
Truscott pointed to studies that show opioid deaths have dropped by 25 percent since states, such as Colorado and Washington, implemented legal marijuana sales for adult use. Contrary to statistics that the police organization was using, Truscott said that there is no reliable data to show a significant increase in cannabis use among young adults following legalization efforts.
The People Fight Back
According to Ballotpedia, CRMLA has raised $1.74 million to help with the legalization campaign. In addition, the Marijuana Policy Project has donated more than $633,013 to the CRMLA.
There are several other organizations that have signaled their support for Prop 1, including MI Legalize, Michigan Cannabis Coalition, Michigan NORML, the National Patients Rights Association, the ACLU, and the Marijuana Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan.
In 2015, federal data demonstrated that somewhere close to 15% of Michigan residents used marijuana; an estimated 10% of those living there used the drug at least once a month.
Michigan has a robust medical marijuana industry that’s been operating since voters approved an initiative in 2008 . Recreational marijuana possession, use, and sale remains illegal, although the possession and use charges have been decriminalized in multiple localities including Detroit, Flint, and Grand Rapids.
In 2015, marijuana arrests in the midwestern state were more common than shoplifting arrests. Police made 23,893 arrests that involved marijuana that year, accounting for 9% of all arrests, according to Michigan State Police data. About 64% of the marijuana arrests were for possession or use.
Michigan NORML Board Member Brad Forrester tried to explain in a blog post the reason that he thought the law enforcement agents were coming out against recreational cannabis legalization. Forrester thought that the police and prosecutors wouldn’t likely welcome the loss of workloads without marijuana arrests and convictions.
“[Law enforcements] inability to arrest people with cannabis will have a huge impact on the policies of every department across the state because in 2016, marijuana arrests accounted for 9% of ALL arrests that year!” said Forrester.
“Readjusting to a new paradigm where it’s legal for people to grow and possess cannabis, a paradigm where 9% of your workload vanishes overnight, that will take time for members of law enforcement to accept, but eventually they will.”
Forrester said that the opponents were pointing to an unreliable report from a federally funded task force known as the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area that fuels “modern mythology” about the impact of cannabis legalization in Colorado.
The War on People of Color
The negative effects of cannabis prohibition enforcement land disproportionately on black people, who use marijuana at the same rates as whites but are around four times more likely to be arrested their marijuana use or possession. This points to bias within the criminal justice system that means black people are vastly most likely to go to jail for this non-violent crime than white people.
While states that have passed laws to permit the sale of recreational cannabis have seen arrest rates fall for marijuana-related offenses, keeping fewer people in the prison system, there is a racial disparity in arrest rates for states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
If Prop 1 is passed, recreational marijuana will be subject to the state’s 6% sales tax and a 10% excise tax. That is lower than other states such as Washington where the excise tax is at 37%. The stated reason for the lower tax rate is to draw prices lower than the black market by making sure legal weed is cheaper than the alternatives.
The revenues generated from the excise tax will be dedicated to costs associated with implementing the legislation, as well as schools, roads, clinical mental health trials, and municipalities where marijuana businesses are located.
There are 30 states across the United States — as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia — that have given the thumbs up to the legalization of medicinal or recreational marijuana. In addition to Michigan, voters in North Dakota will decide whether to legalize recreational sales while voters in Missouri and Utah will decide on medical marijuana on ballot votes this upcoming November.
Experts estimate Michigan could make $100 million to $200 million dollars per year from revenue generated by the marijuana sales excise tax.