DETROIT -- The proposal to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use was on its way to victory early Wednesday morning, making Michigan the first state in the Midwest to approve legal weed.
With 71 percent of the vote counted, the measure had a comfortable double-digit margin statewide and even bigger margins in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.
“The Proposal 1 campaign boiled down into one of fact versus fear,” said Josh Hovey, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which spearheaded the legalization campaign. “The data from the nine other states to have legalized marijuana made clear that regulation and taxation are a better solution. Legalization of marijuana will end the unnecessary waste of law enforcement resources used to enforce the failed policy of prohibition while generating hundreds of millions of dollars each year for Michigan’s most important needs.”
Michigan will become the 10th state in the nation and the first in the Midwest to legalize marijuana for recreational use, joining California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and Washington, D.C. A total of 30 states, including Michigan, have legalized marijuana for medical use. In Nebraska, voters rejected a marijuana legalization proposal and Missouri voters approved legalizing pot for medical purposes.
The proposal will not take effect until 10 days after the election is certified by the state Board of Canvassers, which should happen by early December.
Gayle Dracht, a Marion resident who voted by absentee ballot from her winter home in Florida, said Proposal 1 was the most important issue for her in the election.
"In a farming community, with my past experience of working with young people, I realized that legalizing marijuana would be devastating to the mentality of the kids," she said. "That's my biggie."
Antoinette Takla, 65, of Novi was at the Meadowbrook First Congregational Church Tuesday afternoon mainly because she wanted to vote on the marijuana ballot issue.
“That was for sure no,” she said. “If you have it accessible to everybody, then everybody will be having it, not anymore just for medical reasons but for pleasure, that’s not good.”
But Katie Gritzinger, 27, said voting to legalize marijuana was one of the reasons she headed to the polls for the first time in a midterm election.
"I really wanted to vote for legal weed," she said. "I think Prop 1 is getting a lot more people my age out this year."
The main opponents of the proposal — Healthy and Productive Michigan — didn't concede the issue late Tuesday night, but said it looked as though it would pass.
"It appears that the other side is headed to victory," said Scott Greenlee, director of the opposition campaign. "We’re encouraged by the fact that North Dakota voted down recreational marijuana and that 75 percent of municipalities in Colorado have opted out of pot shops."
Kevin Sabet, the director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Virginia organization that bankrolled the opposition, said the fight against legal weed in Michigan will continue at the local level as the group will help communities decided to prohibit "pot shops" in their towns.
"We may have lost the battle, but not the war," he said. "We have the federal law that outlaws marijuana and we’re looking very actively at other legal options."
Young voters between the ages of 18 and 34 supported the legalization effort by wide margins in polls taken before the vote, including 73-25 percent in a survey done by EPIC/MRA for the Detroit Free Press in late October. And probably helping boost the pro-marijuana legalization effort was high turnout in college towns, said Janet Williamson, spokeswoman for NextGen Michigan, a California-based group that registered thousands of young voters in 11 states, including Michigan.
In the campus precincts at Wayne State University, Michigan State University and University of Michigan, the number of ballots cast by 4 p.m. Tuesday was already twice, triple or four times the number of votes in the last midterm election in 2014.
At the East Lansing precinct that encompasses MSU's campus, 982 people voted compared with 242 in 2014, while 698 voters at a U-M precinct cast ballots, compared with 234 in 2014, and at a WSU precinct, 274 people voted compared with 152 in 2014.
"We would call this data astonishing, but we aren't completely surprised," Williamson said. "We've been on the ground talking to young voters for over a year and we knew their passion was ignited and they were hungry for change."
The industry has exploded in recent years with $9.7 billion in sales in 2017 that are expected to grow to $23 billion by 2022, according to Arcview Market Research, a California-based firm that tracks the legal marijuana industry.
The Michigan campaigns for and against the legalization proposal started out slow, with the supporter — the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol — spending all of its early money on getting the signatures to get the proposal on the ballot and the opponent — Healthy and Productive Michigan — not ramping up until just weeks before the election.
But in the last weeks of the campaign, millions flowed to both sides, from groups with names such as the New Approach PAC and the Marijuana Policy Project bankrolling the supporters and Smart Approaches to Marijuana and a dozen or more businesses kicking in for the opposition.
In the final two weeks of the campaign, more than $625,000 flowed into the opponent's campaign with the biggest chunk of nearly $300,000 coming from Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Virginia-based group that also kicked in more than $1 million before the end of the last campaign-finance report deadline. And on the marijuana supporters' side, the New Approach PAC, a Washington D.C.-based group that helped bankroll the California marijuana ballot proposal in 2016, kicked in $1,097,391 in the final days leading up to the election.
In addition, law enforcement officials, religious groups, even the NAACP came out in opposition to the proposal, while some retired police organizations and African-American business groups stepped up to offer their support.
The declarations, at first, didn't seem to have an impact as polls taken in the weeks before the election consistently showed the measure passing with up to 57 percent of the vote. Young people, who were expected to boost turnout numbers to near presidential election year levels, were especially in favor of legalization with 70 to 80 percent approving of it.
While North Dakota voters said no to legal pot, Utah and Missouri voters approved legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. And Canada legalized marijuana for adults on Oct. 17.
Michigan voters legalized medical marijuana in 2008 by 63-37 percent, and the state Legislature passed bills in 2016 to regulate and tax the industry. The state began approving licenses for five categories of medical marijuana businesses in August. The state's medical marijuana industry is projected to generate $700 million in annual sales, and the recreational market would boost that number to more than $1 billion by the time the market is firmly established.
Tax revenues from the recreational market are projected to fall between $112 million and $275 million annually, according to estimates from three different economic organizations.
This is the second time that marijuana legalization supporters have tried to get on the ballot. Organizers turned in 354,000 petition signatures in 2016 to legalize pot for recreational use, but the Secretary of State's Office ruled the petitions were invalid because many of the signatures were gathered outside the 180-day window set for signature gathering.
In 2018, however, the signatures were gathered and turned in within the 180-day window and no group challenged the signatures.
The marijuana proposal would:
- Allow the possession and use of marijuana by people at least 21 years old. Any amount of marijuana over 2.5 ounces, and up to a maximum of 10 ounces, that is possessed by an individual must be stored in a container equipped with locks.
- Banconsuming marijuana in public places or smoking in an area where it’s prohibited by the person who owns, occupies or manages a property.
- Allow individuals to grow up to 12 plants for personal use and give away (without payment) up to 2.5 ounces to a person over 21 as long as it’s not advertised or promoted to the public.
- Businesses and individuals can’t cultivate marijuana plants that are visible from a public place without the use of binoculars, aircraft or other optical aids. Growing areas must be equipped with locks or other functional security devices that restrict access to the area.
- Prohibit consuming marijuana while operating any vehicle, aircraft, snowmobile, off-road RV or motorboat or consuming in the passenger area of vehicles.
- Ban consumption or possession on the grounds of a public or private school.
- The act DOES NOT prohibit an employer from disciplining an employee for a violation of workplace drug policy or working under the influence of marijuana.
- Rental lease agreements may prohibit people from growing, processing or selling marijuana or accessories from their residences, but it may not prohibit a tenant from legally possessing or consuming marijuana in a means other than smoking.
- Municipalities may prohibit or limit the number of marijuana establishments and enact ordinances that restrict hours, signage.
- The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is responsible for vetting marijuana business applications and approving or rejecting license applications.
- The state has the authority to issue licenses for: dispensary, testing facility, transporter, processor, microbusiness (a business that could grow up to 150 plants, process and sell the product), and three classes of grower, up to 100 plants, up to 500 plants; up to 2,000 plants.
- Marijuana facilities can’t be within 1,000 feet of a pre-existing school, and one individual can’t hold an ownership interest in more than five grow operations before 2023.
- The State shall begin accepting applications within 12 months after the effective date of the act, which, if passed by voters, will be sometime in early December.
- For 24 months after the department begins to receive applications, the department may only accept applications from people who are residents of Michigan and who already have a license to operate a medical marijuana facility.
- Packaging of marijuana products must be in opaque, resealable child-resistant packaging that is significantly difficult for a child to open.
- Excise tax of 10 percent on the sale of marijuana plus the state’s 6 percent sales tax. If the recreational marijuana ballot proposal passes, the 3 percent excise tax on medical marijuana is eliminated.
- For at least two years, state must provide $20 million in marijuana tax revenues annually to one or more clinical trials approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration and given to a researcher or academic institution that is researching the efficacy of marijuana to treat the medical conditions of U.S. armed service veterans and prevent veteran suicide.
- The remaining revenues will be distributed: 15 percent each to the municipality and county where a business is located; 35 percent to the school aid fund; 35 percent to the Michigan transportation fund to be used for repair and maintenance of roads and bridges.
Kathleen Gray covers the marijuana industry for the Detroit Free Press. Contact her: 313-223-4430, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @michpoligal. Free Press reporter Kristen Jordan Shamus contributed to this report.