DETROIT (AP) — Michigan clears a threshold this week as the first state in the Midwest to allow marijuana for more than just medical purposes. In the Nov. 6 election, voters by a wide margin endorsed recreational use by adults who are at least 21. The move comes 10 years after voters approved marijuana to alleviate the effects of certain illnesses. Many supporters believe that decadelong experience, as well as similar legalization efforts in other states, led to victory at the ballot box.
“It’s certainly going to smell like freedom,” starting Thursday, said Detroit lawyer Matt Abel, who specializes in marijuana law and whose office sign says, “cannabis counsel.”
Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. Of course, there are many caveats in Michigan and already some tension.
Michigan residents who are 21 or older can possess or transport up to 2.5 ounces (70.8 grams) of marijuana. They can grow up to 12 plants, although not in public view. They also can give 2.5 ounces (70.8 grams) to another person, but not for payment.
Marijuana can be consumed only at homes or other private property, although landlords and employers can prohibit it. It can’t be smoked at bars or restaurants or any other place that is accessible to the public. That means getting high while walking the dog or hustling between college classes could lead to trouble. Michigan colleges and universities have repeatedly stated that campus anti-drug policies won’t change. Employers will still be able to fire people for drug use.
The doors are not open yet. The new law creates a system of growing and selling marijuana, with millions of dollars to be collected in taxes, but those shops still are months away and must involve state regulators. So people who want marijuana now will need to grow it or obtain it by other, perhaps illegal, means. Michigan is just beginning to license medical-marijuana dispensaries. Abel hopes Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer considers allowing them to sell marijuana for recreational use to meet demand. “The sooner they license retail stores, the sooner the state will be collecting revenue,” he says.
Depending on where people live, buying marijuana won’t be as easy as buying bread. Elected officials in some communities already have voted to ban pot businesses, long before rules are in place. A local veto is available under the law. Local governments also can revisit their policy later. Communities that block marijuana businesses lose an opportunity to capture a portion of a 10 percent tax. But St. Joseph Mayor Mike Garey predicts: “It’s not going to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” St. Joseph is out for now.
After the election, some prosecutors said they would dismiss any pending misdemeanor cases involving small amounts of marijuana that now will be legal. “The people have spoken,” Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker says. Expungement of past convictions is also being considered in some counties. Marijuana still is illegal under federal law, although Michigan’s federal prosecutors say they typically pursue major drug traffickers, not “low-level offenders.” State police spokesman Lt. Mike Shaw says it remains illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana. “This law isn’t going to change that,” he says.