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Shortchanging the voters on marijuana

On November 6, voters across Michigan approved Proposal 1, by 56 percent of the electorate, which made the state the first in the Midwest to legalize recreational marijuana like alcohol. One month later, on December 6, recreational marijuana use became legal statewide.

In Oakland County, 59 percent of the county's voters approved the measure, which allows adults over the age of 21 to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, and to grow up to 12 plants per household. In addition, the measure permits licensing of businesses that grow, process, test, transport or sell marijuana with three classes of cultivator licenses.

The ballot proposal, from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, was designed to allow legal adults who choose to enjoy pot to be safe from criminal penalties and incarceration for small amounts of the drug. However, it still is illegal to consume or smoke marijuana in public, or in a private location where the owner forbids it, and workplace drug policies remain the same as they have always been.

Besides the state's six-percent sales tax, the proposal imposed an additional 10-percent excise tax on retail marijuana sales, which is lower than most of the other 10 states which have legalized recreational marijuana, and is designed to go to schools, roads and infrastructures, and the communities where the business is located.

The crafters of the bill made sure that municipalities could prohibit or limit the number and types of facilities they would like to have within their boundaries – an option which numerous Oakland County communities have taken advantage of in the last month, including Birmingham and Bloomfield Township.

Bloomfield Township's ordinance prohibits any "marijuana establishment," meaning a marijuana grower, marijuana safety compliance facility, marijuana processor, marijuana microbusiness, marijuana retailer, marijuana secure transporter, or any other type of marijuana-related business licensed by the department. It also spells out prohibitions against growers; microbusinesses; processor; retailer; secure transporter; and safety compliance facility. A violation of the ordinance is a municipal civil infraction, with a fine of $100 to $500.

Local leaders should refrain from being ostriches and remember that voters chose to legalize marijuana – in Bloomfield Township, 52 percent of voters approved the measure, and in Birmingham, a whopping 65 percent voted for it, while even in conservative Bloomfield Hills, 52 percent of the electorate approved the proposal.

Prohibiting any and all marijuana establishments may sound like leaders are “protecting” their communities – but from what? The days of skanky head shops are long gone, and in states from New York to California, some pot shops resemble, or surpass, fine wine shops and elegant cosmetic and fragrance stores. And communities voting to opt out are subject to override by the voters of that municipality through initiative petition, according to an analysis of law by the Michigan Municipal League (MML).

Instead, zoning ordinances are a more appropriate way to move forward with this new voter-sanctioned measure. It is a way to be proactive in a new retail and light industrial world, while simultaneously respecting the wishes of an overwhelming number of residents who said this is what they want, and who don't want to venture far or into perhaps dangerous neighborhoods to purchase their recreational drug of choice.

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