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Michigan vote on legalizing marijuana is likely in 2018

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Organizers of a ballot drive to legalize the use of marijuana for recreational purposes in Michigan submitted 365,000 signatures to the state Monday, which appears to be more than enough to qualify the initiative for a statewide vote in 2018.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said the prohibition against recreational marijuana is “a massive failure.”

Michigan has allowed medical marijuana use for nearly a decade. If the new proposal were to make the ballot and win voter approval, it would make Michigan the ninth state to legalize the drug for recreational use.

If passed, people 21 and older could possess up to 2.5 ounces (71 grams) of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants at home. A 10 percent tax on marijuana would be assessed on top of the 6 percent state sales tax.

Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the coalition, said fully legalizing the drug for adults would generate hundreds of millions in new tax revenue. He estimated that 20,000 people in the state are arrested annually for marijuana possession and cultivation.

“Oftentimes it’s just adults using a plant that is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco,” he said at a news conference a couple of blocks from the state Bureau of Elections. “It’s breaking up families. It’s destroying communities. … We can impose some regulations, create a new industry in the state. You’re going to see not only the tax benefits of that, but jobs, less crime and letting law enforcement go after things that are more important.”

State officials will take about two months to review the voter signatures. If they determine that about 252,000 are valid, the bill would go to the Republican-controlled Legislature. Lawmakers would have 40 days to adopt the measure or it would be placed on the November 2018 statewide ballot. Legislators could propose an alternative marijuana bill to put before voters alongside the initiative.

Organizers do not expect the Legislature to consider their proposal.

“Based on my experience working in that Legislature, I don’t think we would have a majority of votes for a sensible legalization bill,” said former Democratic state Rep. Jeff Irwin, of Ann Arbor, the coalition’s political director.

Organizers want to raise $8 million, overall. They have spent nearly all of the $600,000 collected as of Oct. 20, including for paid signature collectors. The committee had received nearly $700,000 more of in-kind help, including for petition gathering, from groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that was the driving force behind successful legalization ballot initiatives in other states.

Irwin said he expects opioid makers to heavily fund opposition to the measure because they have done so in other states with marijuana ballot drives.

An opposition group, Keep Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools, said Monday that the proposal is “ill-advised” and “not in the public interest.”

Spokesman Chris De Witt pointed to how the state is on the verge of starting a licensing system for medical marijuana businesses next month.

The initiative, he said, “will be creating a system that allows for mass quantities of unregulated, untested and untaxed marijuana to be grown by anybody anywhere — creating a true black market for illegal drugs.”

As of Oct. 20, the opposition committee had raised $5,000 from a single source, the Michigan Responsibility Council — a marijuana industry trade group.

According to national polls, a solid majority of Americans support legalization. Gallup’s latest survey gauged support at 64 percent, up from 12 percent from when the question was first posed in 1969.

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