By John Schroyer
Marijuana advocates in Michigan have just two weeks to get thousands of additional signatures for a recreational cannabis legalization measure that promises to create a massive new market in the Midwest.
The effort is turning into a nail-biter, and whether the proposal qualifies for the November ballot will likely come down to the wire.
If the bid fails, the cannabis industry will lose a prime shot at launching a business-friendly recreational market in the tenth-largest state in the nation.
“We’re in a mad dash and scramble to get as many signatures as we can still,” said Jeff Hank, chairman of MILegalize, the leading campaign for legalization in the Great Lakes State. “We’re so close. To fail at this point would just be crazy.”
The group faces a June 1 deadline to submit 252,523 valid voter signatures to place a legalization initiative before Michiganders this fall.
MILegalize estimates it’s collected more than 300,000 signatures. But that may not be enough, because many signatures are typically disqualified for various reasons – for example, if a voter has moved, is no longer registered, or signed the petition multiple times.
Typically, campaign organizers try to collect tens of thousands – or even hundreds of thousands – of additional signatures to ensure they have an adequate number.
MILegalize hopes it can gather at least 350,000 signatures, meaning organizers have their work cut out for them in the next two weeks.
Hank said the campaign is seeking help from anyone interested in volunteering, including people who support legalization as well as entrepreneurs and businesses angling to capitalize on a potentially lucrative, wide-ranging opportunity.
“Everything from dispensaries to coffee shops to processing facilities to cultivation facilities to industrial hemp farms. You name it. Everything would be fair game to participate in,” Hank said.
The measure also calls for:
- Low tax rates
- No vertical integration requirements stipulating that rec cannabis license holders must operate both stores and grow sites
- Zero caps on the number of cannabis business license holders
“If we get this on the books, it’s going to make Colorado look like the heavy hand of big government, compared to what we’re doing,” Hank said.
Michigan already has an active medical marijuana industry, with an estimated 275-325 dispensaries as of early 2016, according to the Marijuana Business Factbook 2016. That’s up from an estimated 150-250 a year earlier.
Dispensary sales for 2016 are estimated at $140 million to $180 million, down from an estimated $180 million to $220 million for 2015.
For a rec market to take root in the state, the first step is qualifying for the ballot. And that’s no easy task.
In Maine, a rec campaign barely squeaked onto the ballot last month after a legal battle forced the secretary of state’s office to reconsider thousands of signatures it had previously invalidated.
Earlier this month, California’s adult-use campaign turned in more than 600,000 signatures. Organizers need 365,000 valid signatures to get their measure on the ballot. Tech billionaire Sean Parker is helping bankroll the effort.
To reach the 350,00 mark, MILegalize is trying to raise a last-minute $150,000 to pay for extra petition circulators, Hank said. The campaign isn’t getting any help from national groups, such as the Marijuana Policy Project or the Drug Policy Alliance.
“If we could get to 350,000, then we’re in the safe zone … We could be a little short of that, and that’s where it could get a little hairy,” Hank said.
His organization is holding a rally on Friday, May 20, at the state capitol in Lansing to recruit and motivate volunteers for a last-minute petition push.
Regardless of how many signatures it gathers, MILegalize will turn turn in what it has on June 1. It will then wait to hear back from the state, which will probably be later that month.
At least two other rec campaigns are still gathering signatures of their own: the Michigan Cannabis Coalition and Abrogate Prohibition Michigan. But most observers don’t give them much of a shot to make the ballot.
“It’s not that they’re bad initiatives. I just don’t think they have the monetary or volunteer base or the manpower that they need to do it,” said Jamie Fricke, a medical marijuana business owner in Davison, near Flint. Fricke even went so far as to donate $7,000 to MILegalize.
As of April, MILegalize had raised almost $850,000 this election cycle, according to state campaign finance records. Of that, $490,000 came from one wealthy Ann Arbor resident. The group said in a statement last week that it had raised a total of $990,000.
MILegalize also has support from the state’s MMJ industry in general, according to both Fricke and George Brikho, a Detroit dispensary owner.
“MILegalize is in the final stretch,” Brikho said. “I pray that they make it.”
John Schroyer can be reached at email@example.com