Measuring the aftermath of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Michigan
By Vanessa Denha Garmo
Marijuana is big business and it was long before the law passed to legalize it on a recreational basis. On December 6, Michigan became a green state, making it the 10th state in the nation to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. Even before Michigan’s recreational marijuana law went into effect, grow houses, dispensaries and medical marijuana licenses existed. The law is officially known as the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act.
In 2008, the Michigan Compassionate Care Initiative, establishing a medical cannabis program for serious and terminally ill patients, was approved by the House but not acted upon, and defaulted to a public initiative on the November ballot. “Prop 1” was approved by 63 percent of voters, making Michigan the 13th state to legalize medical cannabis.
With the passage of proposal 1, it is not legal for anyone 21 years or older to grow, consume, and possess marijuana, but not purchase or sell it; only those with medical marijuana cards can buy more.
The same goes for growing. If you already have plants in your house, they are legal to grow and harvest for your own use. But buying marijuana plants or selling the marijuana that you grow is still illegal. It seems confusing and it is to many people including law enforcement. So, it’s now legal but what does that really mean? That depends on who you ask.
The Legal Perspective
This law was decided by a vote of the people and right now there is a transitional period. “The state has one year to come up with the regulatory framework for sales of recreational marijuana,” said Mike M. Bahoura, principal attorney of Bahoura Law Group, located in Troy, MI. The firm practices almost exclusively in cannabis licensing.
“However, we do know that for the first two years after the state begins accepting applications for recreational sales, only those who have been approved to sell medicinal marijuana will be allowed to apply to sell recreational,” said Bahoura. “In other words, if you want to sell recreational marijuana in the next couple of years, you need to be approved for medical marijuana sales first.”
Law enforcement would agree that the law is not yet clear. “We as police, don’t decide the laws, we enforce them,” said West Bloomfield Police Chief Michael Patton. “Just because it is legal doesn’t mean someone can walk down the street on Orchard Lake Road smoking marijuana. The medical marijuana law was decided 10 years ago and it took about ten years for that law to be tweaked.”
Police officers must look at this from various angles, including from a motor vehicle violation perspective. For example, will impaired driving be treated similarly to alcohol regulations?
“God bless America for ballot initiatives but there are issues dangling and unresolved,” said Patton. “The ballot initiative says zero tolerance offense yet we are getting conflicting reports on what is probable cause to arrest.”
Police are looking at the need for a motor vehicle code for marijuana use. “If this was done at a legislative level, they would have heard these issues come up but the legislature didn’t want to listen and it became a ballot initiative and now these issues are coming up after the vote. We have unanswered questions and issues in limbo.”
The language on the ballot initiative is ambiguous and conflicting. “You can’t consume Marijuana in public, it reads,” noted the Chief. “What does consume mean? Does that including smoking or eating a brownie with marijuana in it?” Under the new law, one can carry up to 2.5 ounces as long as they’re not at a K-12 school or on federal property. In your own home, you can store up to 10 ounces and grow up to 12 plants.
Chief Patton continued pointing out the confusion with the law and the issues that are unresolved. “Unless the legislature weighs in more, we will continue to have unworkable parts, too many loop holes,” he said.
Each city will have the option of allowing recreational sales, as they do now with medicinal sales. “We are hopeful that those municipalities who are friendly to cannabis businesses will opt-in for recreational sales and allow existing provisioning centers – commonly referred to as dispensaries - to also sell recreational marijuana,” said Bahoura. “For the Chaldean community members (and others) who have been approved for medicinal sales, this expands their potential customer base from only those who have a medical marijuana card to anyone who is 21 years or older. And so, the economic ramifications are significant.”
The township of West Bloomfield has opted out in terms of allowing businesses to operate Marijuana shops. “We looked at Colorado and 65 percent of their municipalities have opted out,” noted Chief Patton. “Although people can share what they grow with family and friends, how do we regulate or know if they are selling it or bartering it?”
There seems to be a thought among cities that if they do not opt-out of recreational sales, then they have opted-in by default, however, that is not accurate. “A cannabis business cannot simply open up shop in a city because that city hasn’t officially opted-out,” said Bahoura. “There are still potential criminal issues for selling marijuana without the proper licensing. Each municipality has the option to opt-in or opt-out for medical and recreational marijuana. For the municipalities that decide to opt-in, the state has given them full control over how many of each type of license.”
Chief Patton warns there is no quality assurance with the products. There are no regulations. This is a major concern considering the drug overdoses on the rise in the country. “There is no one regulating what is actually in the marijuana products,” said Patton.
There have been studies that show marijuana is a gateway to other drugs including a study shared by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Of the 57 overdoes in the last 4 1/2 years, we have had 16 fatalities due to heroin overdoses in West Bloomfield,” he noted. “I don’t have 16 homicides or deaths from car crashes. Heroin deaths are the second leading cause of death in West Bloomfield. I realize a majority of people smoking Marijuana will not have a negative affect or major addictions but it doesn’t discount the problems.”
Law enforcement does expect to see a spike in traffic accidents due to impaired driving. “We know it will spike and perhaps level off but this will be an issue,” said Patton. “This is not a green light to light up, get high and get behind the wheel; It is not and I suggest you don’t for your own safety and safety of others.”
Although legal on the state level, it is still illegal on the federal level. “There is currently no funding from the federal government for marijuana enforcement at the state level,” said Bahoura. “President Trump has indicated that he would support removing marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic, although time will tell if that happens with this administration or the next. It may take some more time, but it seems inevitable.”
However, businesses can still find themselves on the wrong side of the law if, for example, they aren’t paying their taxes properly or ensuring they are in strict compliance with the state marijuana laws. “One of the major issues with the federal government’s stance on the issue is that it prevents traditional Banks from accepting funds from these businesses or to provide much needed financing, as some of these endeavors require substantial amounts of money to get started,” said Bahoura.
Even a landlord who is simply renting space to a marijuana business cannot accept any rent that is based on a percentage of sales (as is common in other lease deals), without also going through the same rigorous process. All investors will still be disclosed, but they would not be subject to the same scrutiny as the majority owners.
“I fully support the bill requiring the disclosure of criminal incidents only in which the applicant has been convicted, not simply charged, as is required now,” said Bahoura. “Being innocent until proven guilty is one of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system. Being arrested or charged but never convicted should not be held against anyone in their application process.”
Although it is legal to smoke, there are still some provisions similar to alcohol laws. You must smoke in private or in a business zoned for smoking, for instance. Don’t expect to see people lighting up on the streets; just like alcohol, it will be illegal to consume marijuana in public.
In addition, landlords, leaseholders, and business owners can prohibit smoking pot on their premises but, they cannot stop you from possessing marijuana or consuming non-smokable marijuana products.
College students who are wanting to light up, slow your roll; don’t assume you can possess or consume marijuana in your dorm room. Many universities have drug-free policies that can remain in place despite any change in state law.
If you have a medical marijuana card and can legally purchase marijuana products, there is nothing stopping you from giving pot to your friends and family. If you want to give away extra greenery, you can’t collect payment for it. That would be illegal.
The Business Perspective
Many extremely successful business people are now investing in cannabis. “They look at this as an opportunity to enter into an industry while it is still in its infancy,” said Bahoura. “This is appealing for both the experienced business person as well as the younger generation looking to get into their own business for the first time. They have done their homework and realize that there are significant amounts of money they can legally make. These new laws have really given this industry a sense of legitimacy and rightfully so.”
“I truly am happy about the law being passed by the people,” said George Brikho. “There are many good people who have been punished far too long for this plant, this God-given plant,” he continued quoting Genesis 1:29. “Where do we draw the line on what the government can tell us what to consume and what not to consume? Many people are overweight; when is the government going to intrude on their lives and tell them that the amount of food they eat is not good for them and it will kill them.”
Recreational retail shops won’t open for at least one year. The state has until December 6, 2019 to figure out licenses and regulations for recreational pot shops.
As a small business owner in the gardening industry, Brikho said it will affect him in a positive way. “It will also affect many of the gardening suppliers, as well as steel manufacturers, as well as plant food manufacturers when they produce products for this industry,” he continued. “It will also help the government in tax revenue so the government’s tax base.
It has helped me take the talent that I have learned from the retail business and allowed me to bring it to the gardening industry which caters to the marijuana growers.”
Brikho pointed out that Chaldeans are entrepreneurial and have been since arriving into the United States more than a century ago and over the last 100 years. “I have never met such a hard-working community and driven community,” said Brikho. “Chaldeans are the pioneers of this industry in the state of Michigan.
Brikho argues that many Chaldeans were instrumental in pushing the legalization of marijuana. “The very people that helps pass all these laws are now being disqualified for being in the business prior to the laws taking effect,” he said.
Marijuana is more heavily regulated than liquor. “It is certainly more difficult to obtain a marijuana license than it is a liquor license,” said Bahoura. “The process of obtaining a marijuana license from the State is quite rigorous.”
Each applicant is subjected to a very thorough examination of all of their personal and business financial accounts going back three years, as well as a thorough vetting of any tax delinquencies, litigation history and, of course, any criminal history.
“Time will tell how the industry shakes out, but for now, there is plenty of opportunity for those trying to get into the business, whether it is through cultivating or selling, or by providing ancillary services to the industry, such as security services, packaging materials, signage, or web development,” noted Bahoura.
“We did everything in our power for the average Michigander to have an opportunity to get into this industry to be able to provide for their family and the future of their families,” said Brikho.
There are many who still protest the law and want it changed. The law could potentially change, but few believe that could happen. When a ballot initiative passes, it requires a 3/4 majority of both the state House and Senate to make any changes. But that doesn’t mean some legislators aren’t trying. A bill has been introduced that would make it illegal to grow marijuana in your home, and would drastically change the tax structure established by the law.
“I know there are some people in our community who frown at those who own dispensaries or other marijuana businesses but then also happen to own liquor stores themselves,” said Bahoura. “The irony is not lost on the rest of us. This industry is here to stay, embrace it.”
The Community Perspective
There are several groups who strongly oppose the law including those concerned about it getting into the hands of minors. There is great concern regarding the impact marijuana will have on the youth. “We are very disappointed about the law and are concerned about youth,” said Lisa G. Berkey, executive director of the Greater West Bloomfield Community Coalition. “We want our kids to make wise choices and we know they don’t always do that because their brains don’t develop until mid-20s.”
Over the years, there have been national campaigns designed to educate people against the dangers of cigarette smoke. “They have been affective,” noted Berkey, “however, kids think that smoking cigarettes is worse than smoking marijuana. They have been taught their entire lives that cigarettes cause cancer but they don’t think marijuana is dangerous.”
Although the legal age to consume is 21 years old, there is still great concern that marijuana will become available to tweens and teens. “It is harmful for their developing brains,” noted Lisa Kaplan, LMSW, CAADC, CPC-R, program coordinator – Maplegrove Community Education. “It creates and worsens depression and anxiety, and can cause psychosis.”
Kaplan also shares the concern of police and that people will drive under the influence, and cause more traffic accidents, injuries and deaths. She also does support studies that marijuana use leads to other drugs. “There is disagreement on whether it is a gateway drug. I strongly believe that it is,” said Kaplan. “Nobody begins with heroin. After using a drug for a period of time a user will look for a stronger high and turn to other drugs. Tobacco, alcohol and marijuana are drugs and we think of them as gateway drugs.”
There are 19 coalitions in Oakland County as well as task forces reviewing the current law and are waiting for more information. “There is so much gray area with this law,” explained Berkey. “We still don’t know enough about the regulations but that doesn’t change the dangers related to marijuana. We put the cart before the horse with this law.”
Lisa Kaplan is on the board of the Greater West Bloomfield Community Coalition which has many programs designed to educate parents, students and school officials on the dangers of drugs.
“Legalization of marijuana sends a mixed message to students. Similar to alcohol, being legal for adults indicates it must not be harmful,” said Gerald Hill, Ph.D., superintendent of West Bloomfield Schools. “Being illegal for youth is something that parents need to stress, as possession or being under the influence at school will bring disciplinary consequences.”
The mission of the Greater West Bloomfield Community Coalition is to build community partnerships to reduce high risk behaviors including alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, to help ensure that our youth may grow to their greatest potential.
“The Greater West Bloomfield Community Coalition’s “Kids in Charge” curriculum, taught by community volunteers in our elementary schools, will need to be revised/updated,” said Dr. Hill. “I’m sure that Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs) and social service agencies will be requesting and providing educational programs on the legalities and health issues related to use and abuse.”
Dr. Hill shares many of the same thoughts as others. “The concerns include health, mental health and safety risks, potential legal consequences of using a prohibited substance, and another distraction from learning,” he said. “I am surprised by how easily the proposition passed in the November election.”
It’s not just smoking marijuana that poses problems, edibles also create significant issues. “There are edibles packaged in boxes that look like other commercialized treats. Imagine a kid taking a marijuana-laced pastry to school,” said Berkey. “We are not proactive in this country. We are reactive. Tobacco started out by being glamorized by showing TV stars smoking. But when they realized the problems, they started educating people on the dangers. It is the same with vaping. If they regulated in the beginning, maybe our kids would not be vaping.”
Both Kaplan and Berkey highly recommend that parents educate themselves on the signs and symptoms of use. “Do the research on the computer,” said Kaplan. “Be familiar with vapes/electronic cigarettes, wax, shatter, and marijuana oils. Take adolescent use seriously, as the younger a person starts using, the higher the likelihood of addiction. Have a zero-tolerance policy, and give the clear message that use is forbidden.”
The Religious Perspective
Among those who not just frown upon it, but strongly speak against recreational marijuana are religious leaders. The Chaldean Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle of the United States issued an official statement last month regarding recreational marijuana and other drug use in the Chaldean community. The full statement is on the Chaldean News Website.
“Our Diocese is another voice in the church condemning drug use outside strict therapeutic reasons,” said Fr. Matthew Zetouna. “In particular, the church is against the legalization of recreational marijuana in Michigan for many reasons. Wherever marijuana has been legalized, it has had a detrimental impact and terrible consequences hitting the family, hitting the youth, and hitting society … In the interest of protecting our family, our human dignity and our youth, the church is very vocal against the legalization of recreational marijuana.”
Fr. Matthew, among many clergy, receive numerous phone calls regarding drug issues in the community. “Have you had to bury a young kid who overdoses? Have you had to think of the words to give to the family looking at you to help them make sense of the situation? I am sick of burying people who overdose,” said Fr. Matthew. “I am terribly sick of it and it’s unfortunate that our community will hide away instead of getting help because of shame on the family.”
Fr. Matthew urges people to consider their moral obligations before going into this business.
“Like anything else you have to look at the proper protocols and the right way to do things,” said Fr. Matthew. “Are you being honest or dishonest? Look at your buyers. If your buyers are using for strict therapeutic reasons and following the norms that are given, then it could be morally permissible to sell. In that way, it is similar to selling alcohol. If your clientele is abusing marijuana, then you have an obligation to stop selling to them. If you know someone is abusing it, then you cannot enable them.”
In recent months, Fr. Matthew has heard many arguments, defending the use of Marijuana including, how is it different from alcohol? “The mere fact that an activity is made legal by the government does not automatically mean that it is morally acceptable. Like alcohol, marijuana has intoxicating effects, but marijuana causes one to experience a “high,” often accompanied by grogginess and impaired judgement,” he said.
“If it is used therapeutically, the resulting impairment is seen as an unintended secondary effect outside of the drug’s main beneficial use. In other words, if one is using marijuana for its intoxicating effects, it is wrong for several reasons (like getting drunk with alcohol). With alcohol, one may justifiably drink it as long as the intention and result is not to get “buzzed” or intoxicated.”
“There is no question as to the social evils that will increase as marijuana usage is continued to be embraced as a neutral practice in society,” stated the church. “To our young people, especially, the normalization of recreational marijuana socially is unacceptable. Children and families will be damaged as a result. Using marijuana for adolescents often results in significant changes to brain structure and cognitive functioning.
Fr. Matthew reiterated the statement with a personal appeal to the community. “The reason I didn’t touch Marijuana when I was in high school is because I value myself too much and I didn’t want to lose a fraction of who I am. Marijuana is not worth the risk of losing who I am, my ability to articulate. I encourage people to speak up. Encounter Christ for encouragement. Ask for help. You are all worth it. Your life is too valuable to compromise.”
RESOURCES REFERENCED IN THE ARTICLE:
Catechism of the Catholic Church 2291
https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/ aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Reaffirms-Opposition-to- Legalizing-Marijuana-for-Recreational-or- Medical-Use.aspx
*This information does not constitute legal advice. If you have questions or are interested in entering the cannabis industry, you should consult with legal counsel.
**CORRECTION: in the previous version of the article, Kaplan was quoted saying “Do not do the research on the computer.” This has been corrected to read as follows: “Do the research on the computer.”