By Riley Beggin
Michigan voters will decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana in November after Republicans in the state Legislature said Tuesday they would not vote on a preemptive proposal by day’s end.
A strategic GOP bid to pass the proposal, then rein it in by amending it, fell flat when Republicans in the state House couldn’t gather the votes necessary to pass it. So neither the House nor the Senate, where there was more support, took it up for a vote.
Both chambers are Republican controlled. But such is the growing sentiment for legalizing recreational marijuana, both in Michigan and nationally, that it’s widely assumed the ballot measure would win easily. Senate Republicans hoped that by passing their own measure first, they could have a greater say in regulating pot across the state.
House Speaker Tom Leonard, who opposed a legislative bid to legalize marijuana, told reporters Tuesday
“there was very little support for this (since) day one”
in the House. Senate leadership never gave House members an idea of what an amended version would look like, he said.
“I truly believe that once the citizens are educated on this, I do believe that this is an initiative that can and will be defeated” in November, said Leonard, a conservative who is running for state attorney general.
Legalized marijuana — traditionally opposed by Republican lawmakers — was on the table after the state certified a ballot initiative to legalize pot by a committee called the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. The legislature had a chance to act on it by Tuesday before it headed to the ballot on Nov. 6 and hoped to do so under a plan put forward by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive.
Meekhof said in a news release Tuesday he was “disappointed” by the House’s inability to gather the needed votes for the proposal, which he called a “missed opportunity.”
“Adoption of this petition was a choice to fulfill our obligations as leaders in our communities and control the impact of recreational marijuana on our state,” he said in the statement. “The choice to adopt and amend was the most responsible way to ensure local control for our communities and safety for our citizens and the Senate Republican Majority was prepared to act.”
Meekhof previously expressed concern about a lack of regulation.
“We have regulated alcohol, we have regulated tobacco. If this goes on the ballot and passes, we virtually have unregulated marijuana,” Meekhof told Bridge Magazine last week at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference on Mackinac Island.
He later added:
“The House is lagging in their education on this.”
Under Meekhof’s plan, the Legislature would have adopted the proposal and then amended it to include regulations similar to medical marijuana, which voters adopted in Michigan in 2008. To amend laws passed by public vote, lawmakers need a 3/4 vote in the Legislature. To amend laws passed by the Legislature, they only need a simple majority — a significantly lower bar.
House Democratic Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, said Tuesday that he believes the Legislature will still have the votes — including from Democrats — to amend the initiative if need be if it passes in November.
“We just passed medical marijuana reform with 3/4 vote,” he said. “I don’t think it’s as hard of a hill to climb now that we have that under our belt.”
Democrats opposed the strategy to pass the Republican proposal then amend it.
“This sort of shady plan to circumvent the will of voters on marijuana, I think, is one that will continue to erode the trust that people have in us,”
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, told Bridge last week.
Ananich and Singh told Bridge last week on Mackinac Island they believed Republican-led amendments to the existing proposal would set up a system to directly benefit key donors, or could gut the proposal entirely.
“You would create a monopoly for a handful of well-connected Republican donors,” Singh said. “Democrats don’t want to see those games being played.”
The ballot proposal would allow Michiganders over the age of 21 to have, use, grow and sell marijuana for recreational use. Right now, only medical marijuana is legal in Michigan.
Recent polling shows that more than 60 percent of Michigan residents would vote “yes” on the initiative. Gallup’s annual Values and Belief survey released Monday showed 65 percent of Americans believe smoking pot is morally acceptable.