LANSING — The state legislature decided on Tuesday the issue of legalizing marijuana for recreational use will be up to voters to decide in the November election.
Senate Republicans had wanted to take up and pass the measure so they could amend it and keep it off the Nov. 6 general election ballot. They instead deferred to the House of Representatives to see whether Republicans had the 55 votes needed for passage, but they were nowhere near that number.
“There’s simply not support in the chamber to pass this right now,” said Speaker of the House Tom Leonard (R-Dewitt). “The voters are going to have to decide. We’re nowhere in the ballpark.”
The House declined to vote on the measure before adjourning Tuesday, kicking it to the November general election ballot. The Senate also declined to vote. Midnight Tuesday was the deadline for the legislature to take up the issue.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in enough signatures last year to get the issue on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot, but first the legislature had the chance to act on the petition. While the coalition supported the legislature passing the measure as written, it is ready to make its case to the voters.
“We are confident Michigan voters understand that marijuana prohibition has been an absolute disaster and that they will agree that taxing and regulating marijuana is a far better solution,” said coalition spokesman Josh Hovey. “Multiple polls show that roughly 60 percent of Michigan voters want to see marijuana legalized and regulated.”
Lawmakers had three options: Pass the proposal to legalize weed and amend it later by a simple majority vote; come up with their own competing proposal for the ballot or do nothing and let the measure go to the general election ballot.
They chose to do nothing.
If voters pass the measure in November, it will take a three-quarters majority vote to amend the proposal.
“I’m disappointed in the fact that it’s going to be the wild, wild West out there,” said Sen. Mike Kowall, (R-White Lake). “This is exactly what the Colorado (marijuana) Enforcement Agency told me — there’s nothing you can do to stop it, but you can control it.”
If the measure is approved, Michigan would become the ninth state to legalize cannabis for adult recreational use. A total of 29 states have approved marijuana for medical use. The state’s voters approved medical marijuana in 2008 by a 63 percent-37 percent margin and the legislature passed bills in 2016 to regulate and tax the industry, which is expected to become a $700 million market annually once the state begins awarding licenses.
“Despite significant efforts to communicate the benefits of ‘adopt and amend’ to our counterparts, support did not materialize in the House,” said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive). “I am disappointed by this missed opportunity.”
“This is a decision that should go to the voters, said House Minority Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing). “This was an idea perpetuated by a small group of Republican donors who wanted to run the system and that wasn’t something that Democrats were going to support.”
“I don’t know if it helps Democrats (in November) because we’re already pretty enthusiastic,” he added. “I don’t think it hurts us to have it on the ballot.”