Legalizing Marijuana in the State of Michigan

Context

Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

The first relevant bill is senate bill number 73 which references three strike felony policy related to drug use charges and other potential causes for receiving a felony. The primary focus that of this bill that connects to the following proposal is the potential to receive extended charges/life sentences after acquiring three felonies. Some of these felonies can be due to Marijuana usage and or possession.

The second relevant bill is House Bill 4209 which passed in the house and with approval would create a state board to regulate and license dispensaries across the state of Michigan. This law gives the state government more control over the distribution of Marijuana.

The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act laid the groundwork for Legalization of medical Marijuana. After the bill was passed in 2008, the government and legislators can now propose the legalization of recreational marijuana or the decriminalization of marijuana following the first step of legalizing and regulating medical marijuana usage.

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

Overall the proposal is aimed at reducing the uneven incarceration rate of ethnic males (predominately teens) across the state of Michigan. Currently, African American males makeup 14% of Michigan's population but account for more than a third (35%) of total drug-related arrests. The act of decriminalizing/legalizing marijuana will help reduce the unjust and discriminatory policing that has plagued the ethnic youth community across the state of Michigan. Further, changing the criminal status of Marijuana will allow police officers and law enforcement officials to focus on more pressing issues across the state of Michigan including homicide, robbery, and gang related crime.

Students at the University of Michigan will benefit from this legislation as they won't receive punishment, charges on their record for Marijuana usage. According to Umich news, "one in every 17 college students is smoking Marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis:" this is described as smoking or usage 20 or more times in the past 30 days. With high usage amongst college students, legalization/decriminalization of recreational use will protect college students from drug charges, excessive fines, and will allow college campus police to focus on student's safety rather than student's intoxication (Marijuana related).

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

I was interested in this issue as my home state (Washington DC) recently "legalized" recreational marijuana use and I wanted to see how legislation for Marijuana was progressing in the state of Michigan. As a college student marijuana is very popular amongst my peers and I wanted to learn more about the regulation of the drug and see if legalizing the drug could have positive impacts on the University of Michigan community and on cities and towns across Michigan. After conducting research and reading reports on various websites, I discovered more and more about how Marijuana and the three strike policing policy have hurt underprivileged youth from minority backgrounds. I also learned about how Marijuana usage and Marijuana arrests don't line up. I wanted to create proposal that focused on the discrimination behind Marijuana arrests and related charges

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

After working at a community center with children from struggling backgrounds I became more weary of jumping at the idea of legalizing Marijuana, which potentially already causes problems in many of these children's homes. That being said, after working at the center and learning more about each individual kids and their respective needs I realized that a strong education was the most important thing that could change the lives of the students I worked with. The opportunity to attend a school that is supportive and that helps develop young minds is imperative for youth to exit the cycle of poverty and enter the work world as productive and skilled adults. I realize that Legalization may have its problems, however the tax revenue generated from legalization could greatly impact schools and the funding that many schools receive across the state of Michigan. Colorado raised $50 million from Marijuana taxes in 2016 and that could greatly increase the funding per average pupil. A study conducted in Colorado stated that "notably successful school districts spent $8,667" per student, while Michigan's average is way below that.

My volunteer work at the Ann Arbor Community Arts Center exposed me to a very different crowd than Bryand Community Center and allowed me to discuss the idea of Marijuana legalization with artists, musicians, and Ann Arbor locals. As one would expect, many of the members of the Ann Arbor arts community are strong advocates of legalization and hope that if legalization does occur, some of the revenue collected would be earmarked for arts initiatives and programs related to arts education. My work at the arts center allowed me to connect with a very different demographic than I am normally exposed to on campus and helped me develop a more well-rounded perspective on the issue and how it affects residents.

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

Infographic On Legalizing Marijuana in Michigan

Consultations

Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1: Senator Warren

"The legalization and taxation fo Marijuana would create much-needed revenue for roads and infrastructure in the state." A bill was introduced by representative Irwin in 2015 (House bill 4877) that called for decriminalization and regulation of recreational marijuana, however, that bill did not receive a hearing before the session expired and so that bill would need to be voted on again to be reintroduced.

"With regard to your second question, I wholeheartedly believe that unequal treatment of any group of citizens based on race, gender, or any other factor is absolutely unacceptable and I am deeply concerned by the unduly punitive, and often unequal, punishments associated with drug related offenses. It is for these reasons that I firmly believe we must re-examine these largely ineffective and costly policies and have consistently supported legislation to divert non-violent offenders from our prison system, streamline the parole process and give returning parolees needed support to reenter the community and become successful and productive citizens.

Lastly, while there have been many studies on the issue of the effect of marijuana legalization on crime, there is definitive research to say that the legalization of marijuana does not lead to an increase in crime, and in some cases, lowers crime rates. A study by the University of Texas at Dallas showed that legalized medical marijuana may reduce homicides and other violent crimes."

CONSULTATION 2: Adam L (Green Wolverine Initiative)

When focusing on the legalization of Marijuana it is important to compare the Marijuana and its effects on people to other legalized drugs that have negatively impacted communities more than Marijuana including tobacco (kills 6 million people per year while cannabis has killed 0) and alcohol which causes 88,000 deaths a year. Further, it is interesting that the proposal focuses on the monetary and racial reasons to legalization as opposed to the moral reasons, which are often used. The legalization argument is much stronger when racial and monetary facts can present a case that justifies legalization financially and morally.

CONSULTATION 3: NOML Lobby Representative

Removing the three strike policy for criminal charges related to Marijuana possession and use, while a step in the right direction, is not enough. According to Gallup and other polls, ~60% of Americans believe Marijuana should be legalized and it's "a little too late" to worry about a few people receiving harsh prison sentences. Approximately 40 million people smoke at least once a year and only a handful would benefit from the reformed law.

In regard to solution 2, decriminalization is a helpful step because people forget that decriminalizing means removing minor marijuana offenses from the criminal justice system. Often decriminalization has to do with 1, 2 oz. or less of possession and usually eliminates the civil penalty or fine associated with that amount. Further decimalization is important because it will prevent individuals who do get caught smoking from being "saddled down" by a mark on their record, which could hurt future employment chances and the opportunity to attain a higher education. While Marijuana arrests have declined (800K per year to 600K per year) lives are still being destroyed from the arrest of marijuana especially as these arrests are of smokers, not growers or dealers (90% of arrests are for possession of one ounce or less). Decriminalization is an important step towards legalization

The main purpose of the legalization of marijuana is to end the black market and bring it above ground so that marijuana can be regulated and taxed. The black market always has issues with crime, corruption, and violence and one can never guarantee the health or safety of the product. Legalization helps enable governments to create complex regulation and ensures that the public is receiving the highest quality product that has been tested in a lab and ensured to be without pesticides and other unsafe chemicals. Legalization can also help create consumer protections as licensed marijuana growers and distributors must properly label their products with the amount of CBD and THC in each serving. These regulations and combined with proper labeling are important to maintain the safety and quality of products being distributed. We can’t quit until the US passes full legalization and ends prohibition of marijuana.

Prospectus:

Describe the specific issue or problem, being sure to provide sufficient context so that someone less familiar with the issue has a sense of the bigger picture, but know that your focus here is on a more detailed spelling out of the specific problem or issue that you’ve identified. (250 words minimum)

The problem with the criminalization of marijuana began with the war on drugs movement from the 1980s-1990s. With this movement, police worked on common level offenses know as “broken windows” policing. In NYC specifically, 800 arrests were made in 1991 ad in 2010 that number spiked up to more than 59,000. “Broken Window” comes from a seminal article by Wilson and Kelling that explained how serious crime is sustained and generated by disorder and petty crime (broken windows encourage people to vandalize with graffiti, litter etc.). With this in mind, police officers have taken action on all petty crimes often with a no tolerance policy. According to the ACLU, each year the enforcing law on possession costs more than $3.6 billion dollars (NYT). Police officers have to spend resources and time to arresting individuals who have no previous felonies or convictions on their records. In a study conducted in NY, only 3.1% of 30,000 people arrested for marijuana possession had committed a violent offense. While Police have upped their efforts to prosecute over 30 million Americans continue to use the drug (NYT)

The issue with racial disparity in arrests extend beyond racial discrimination but help perpetuate a cycle of poverty and oppression in poor communities. While only 6% Marijuana arrests end with a felony conviction, these misdemeanors, fines, and probation charges add up and start to build a criminal history (NYT). This criminal history can influence future punishment severity, employment opportunities, and education opportunities among others.

When looking at the criminal justice side of Marijuana the laws around the drug become more controversial. Currently, African Americans makeup 14% of Michigan’s population but are subject to 35% of total arrests made for Marijuana (MLive). Further, African Americans are 3.3x as likely to be arrested than whites for Marijuana usage and possession in the state of Michigan. A large problem with the criminalization of Marijuana is that it disproportionately punishes minorities compared to Whites (49%) who Whites who actually use the drug more than African Americans (42%) or Hispanics (33%) (Infoplease). These numbers reflect that usage does not always correlate with punishment and therefore legalization of Marijuana could potentially help cut down on discriminatory arrests and punishment for Michigan’s minorities.

After analyzing the problems it is important to understand the background behind Marijuana Legalization in Michigan. The legislation started to take shape in 2008 when The state of Michigan passed the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. This provided protections and regulations for the distribution and growing of medical marijuana in the state of Michigan. This legislation laid the groundwork for advocates to push for legalization. In 2016, Rick Snyder passed a bill to regulate dispensaries and edibles in 2016. These new laws helped Michigan establish a “sold framework that gives patients a safe source from which to purchase and utilize medical marijuana.” Edibles and dispensary shops are now regulated by the state of Michigan. Looking onto 2018, pro-marijuana advocates are hoping to push the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation initiative on the docket by receiving enough signatures (252,523 valid signatures). With the signatures, the bill will be introduced to the governing body in Lansing and voted on. The bill seeks to legalize all recreational use of Marijuana in the state of Michigan similar to states like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon among others. According to a 2016 poll conducted on Ballotpedia 50% of Michigan residents support legalization of recreational marijuana, while 46% oppose legalization, and 4% are unsure (Ballotpedia).

Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

SOLUTION 1: 

Replace three strike policy punishment with a three strike rehabilitation program. Currently being caught with Marijuana can be tried as a felony and three felonies can result in extreme punishment, sometimes a life sentence. A solution would be to implement a rehabilitation reform after three felonies, where those convicted would have to do community service and attend drug rehabilitation/education programs.

SOLUTION 2: 

Decriminalize the possession and usage of marijuana which would hopefully reduce the uneven incarceration rate amongst young minority men in the state of Michigan. Through decriminalization, the state could charge hefty fines and implement mandatory education and awareness classes that could help curb use, rather than fill prisons.

Currently, African Americans are four times as likely to be arrested for Marijuana possession/use as Whites and in the state of Michigan African Americans makeup 36% of Marijuana arrests but only 14% of the Michigan population. These stats point directly to the injustice in the current system.

SOLUTION 3:  

Legalize recreational Marijuana use in the state of Michigan and use the funds generated from a Marijuana tax to support state enforcement, local education, and the development of local infrastructure. Further, through the legalization of recreational Marijuana, the state can monitor drug use across the state as well as control distribution in order to cut down the black market and illicit drug trade in Detroit and other underserved communities. 

Currently, in Colorado, there are two taxes placed on Marijuana; retail sales tax (2.9%), and a special Marijuana sales tax (10%). Through the use of these taxes, the Colorado state government has raised $1 billion in revenue, nearly $50 million of that is from a specific excise tax that directly funds school construction projects. The first $40 million collected from the excise tax each year is earmarked for school projects. 

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.

Ben Metzger helped connect me to people that I  should talk to for my proposal and helped me figure out how to make the most of my consultations. While each of my solutions has the potential for success, Ben recommended that I narrow down and focus on researching one solution that I believed would work best. Further, his recommendation to propose my solutions to my consultation was something that I had not thought of (I assumed we presented our prospectus and talked about our proposal rather than specifically outlining our solutions). 

Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

My research process began with analyzing the legislation surrounding the legalization of recreational Marijuana in the state of Michigan. I researched bills and legislation that has been passed in relation to legalization as this helped me build a foundation for the issue and understand how the concept of legalization has progressed through the Michigan judicial system. After reading more on the bills and legislation passed I did a bit of discovery research to understand the crimes and punishment related to Marijuana. this is where I discovered the crooked justice system that discriminated more towards African American males than any other group of people.

From my research on crime and incarceration rates, I was able to formulate a solution that justified legalization from a criminal justice perspective rather than from a moral perspective. I continued my research by analyzing how Marijuana legislation has affected states, where the drug is legalized, included Washington DC and Colorado. I wanted to learn more about where the Marijuana tax money went, how it affected crime rates, and how the state has changed since Marijuana was legalized for recreational use. Through my research of crime and punishment in Michigan to discovering the effects in other states, I was able to put together three solutions that I believed fully addressed the issues of a criminal justice system that needs reform through legalizations of Marijuana. 

My research included consultations with community service workers at an after school center, a pre-medical student at Michigan, a lobbyist from NORML, the founder of Green Wolverine (a campus club to legalize Marijuana), a comment from Senator Warren, and I am currently waiting on a response from Governor Taylor in Ann Arbor. In regards to reading, I discovered sources on the bridge and numerous other websites listed below that helped me outline the issue and discover information backing up my claims.

One dead end I did encounter was determining whether decriminalization or legalization was the correct move. After speaking with a lobbyist for NORML I was able to refine my perspective and fully commit to legalization as decriminalization is a step in the right direction, but the point of legalization is to end the black market and create regulations and monitor the distribution of Marijuana so consumers are protected. Decriminalization, while it is a step in the right direction doesn't fully address the issues that underground Marijuana distribution create; violence, trafficking, gangs etc.

My overall thought process was centered on the idea that Marijuana is not a drug that should be considered schedule one (in the same category as heroin, meth, cocaine) but rather is a medicinal plant that is used by many people for various reasons. I understand that arrests for Marijuana possession and use has led to numerous years in prison, absurd fines, and other unjustified punishments and I believed that these punishments were an excuse to maintain a crooked justice system and through my research I was able to back up those claims.

 

Author contributions:

Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?

I was the only author and did all the research and writing myself.
 

===FORMAL PROPOSAL===

The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS.... " "An individual who was convicted previously under this article or under any statute of the United States or of any state relating to a narcotic drug, marijuana and is subject to violation of a second or third offense may face life imprisonment without eligibility for probation, suspension, or parole. This harsh three-strike policy destroys lives as small criminal charges add up to life sentences, affecting young individuals.

WHEREAS.... Michigan African Americans make up  36% of Marijuana arrests but only 14% of the Michigan population. Further African Americans are 3.3x as likely to be arrested for Marijuana possession and use as compared to other minorities in the state of Michigan

WHEREAS.... The criminal justice system in 2006 Michigan costs $5.77 billion (including legal/judicial fees, police protection, and correction). Further, " There were 353,335 arrests in Michigan in 2006.  There were 19,973 marijuana arrests that year, accounting for 5.65% of all arrests in Michigan for 2006.  Consequently, according to this percentage basis method of estimation, marijuana arrests cost $326.02 million in Michigan for 2006" Further, Marijuana arrests distract and divert law enforcement and criminal justice resources "from possession and sales offenses involving other illicit drugs.  In 2007, marijuana arrests were 56% of all drug arrests in Michigan" (DrugScience).

(Add more "Whereas" clauses if necessary.)

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED....

1. By eliminating the three-strike penalty leading to life imprisonment and eliminating marijuana possession and usage as a criminal offense through decriminalization and recreational legalization. The third strike punishment will be replaced with a rehabilitation/volunteer opportunity that will be funded by Marijuana tax revenue collection.

2. Use a portion of the funds generated from a Marijuana tax to support state enforcement, local education, and the development of local infrastructure. Michigan can model Colorado's tax by implementing a retail sales tax of 2.9% and a special Marijuana sales tax of 10%. A portion of these revenues can be earmarked for school funding across Michigan districts, similar to Colorado.

3. Earmark a large portion of the Marijuana sales tax revenue to fund enforcement and regulation efforts of Marijuana sales and distribution across the state. Further, the tax revenue collected can be used to attack the Marijuana black market that has been responsible for 56% of total drug arrests in 2007.

(Add more "Resolved" clauses if necessary.)

Counter-arguments:

What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. Marijuana legalization will increase drug use and cause more health related issues as Marijuana is linked with other drug use. Marijuana is often referred to as a gateway drug and the approval and legalization of Marijuana will enable users to consumer Marijuana and eventually try other drugs.

2. Legalization will not improve the unfair criminal justice process because the drug is not federally legal, therefore the federal government can still choose to prosecute individuals caught with Marijuana, despite the law being ratified on a state level. President Trump;s administration has threatened state's rights when it comes to statewide drug legalization pushing back against federal law.

3. Marijuana itself has shown addictive properties and is a dangerous substance to legalize. Tobacco and alcohol already contribute to thousands of deaths and millions of dollars in Emergency room visits so legalizing another schedule one substance would only add to health care costs associated with current drug abuse.

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

The proposal will not cost money but will rather generate funds from a specific excise tax that will be placed on Marijuana purchases as well as a sales tax on all Marijuana product sales. The revenue generated from Marijuana sales could be allocated to fund various projects including infrastructure, schools, construction, and enforcement. The legislation pays for itself and I am hoping that the state of Michigan, like Colorado, will earmark funds for schools and education initiatives across the state.

I believe the taxes collected in each respective county for Marijuana sales will be used to support local county projects and enforcement. In the case that certain counties aren't being funded as equally the government may come up with a distribution system that can allocate a surplus from another county in order to support a county with lesser funding.

References:

These can include websites or other information you have found about the issue.

http://www.snopes.com/marijuana-responsible-colorado-crime-increase/

http://www.michigan.gov/documents/sos/Petition_-_MI_Comprehensive_Cannabis_Law_Reform_Cmte_VERDANA_491725_7.pdf

http://norml.org/laws/item/michigan-penalties-2

http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0883545.html

https://www.greenrushdaily.com/2016/10/19/marijuana-arrests-michigan/

http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2015/10/michigan_pot_arrests_are_trend.html?appSession=06097122907862079355106149144081305685920203344712192644808779349453288062394181758112482523492535625371206094779527191555026409

https://ballotpedia.org/Michigan_Marijuana_Legalization_and_Regulation_Initiative_(2018)

https://ballotpedia.org/Michigan_Marijuana_Legalization_Initiative_(2016)

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/07/29/opinion/high-time-the-injustice-of-marijuana-arrests.html

https://www.infoplease.com/science-health/health/marijuana-use

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(0thyplqw1eqilfnrufjnwsvl))/documents/mcl/pdf/mcl-initiated-law-1-of-2008.pdf

http://detroit.cbslocal.com/2016/12/20/new-medical-marijuana-laws-go-into-effect-across-michigan

https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/marijuana/laws-about-marijuana-use

http://norml.org/laws/item/michigan-penalties-2

http://norml.org/laws/item/michigan-penalties-2

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/which-is-worse-booze-or-pot-a-doctor-weighs-in/

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-marijuana-traffic-death-idUSKBN14H1LQ

 http://www.ncpa.org/pub/ba423/#sthash.evozTnH6.dpuf

https://www.atf.gov/resource-center/fact-sheet/fact-sheet-tobacco-enforcement

http://reason.com/blog/2017/01/31/taxes-and-red-tape-keep-colorados-ma-new

http://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/new-laws-in-michigan-shake-up-the-marijuana-industry/article_21fd1838-50a3-5281-a65a-06ebba9ca838.html

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Total votes: 38

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