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Californians rang in the New Year with a newfound right to buy legal marijuana. But recreational pot is likely to make big waves in Michigan, too, this year. A ballot measure to legalize it has secured hundreds of thousands of signatures, and it appears ready for a vote this fall.

A majority – 57 percent – of respondents to an EPIC-MRA poll less than a year ago said they’d vote yes.

So the question isn’t if recreational marijuana will be legalized, but rather when. But is the state even remotely prepared to handle this budding new industry?

If its chaotic handling of the 2008 medical marijuana law is any indication, recreational pot will come with its share of frustrations and setbacks. Michigan’s regulations surrounding medical marijuana have been called the worst in the nation, and patients and caregivers have had to plea for years with lawmakers to take their industry – and voter-approved state law – seriously.

It’s been a decade since voters approved the medical marijuana law here, yet the regulatory framework created around the industry is just finally starting to take shape.

Now, with legalization just steps away, the task of creating a viable regulatory structure for fully legal weed seems like it could be an uphill battle.

Michigan should study other states’ failures and successes and make itself a smart place for the industry to grow. Just as craft breweries and distilleries have been able to grow exponentially here due to light regulations, the marijuana industry could bring revenue, jobs and a more youthful population.

California regulatory agencies got caught having to solidify regulations for medical marijuana and recreational marijuana businesses at the same time. That overlap could easily happen here, resulting in cumbersome, confusing regulations that don’t provide the protection and clarity for entrepreneurs to start successful businesses.

If the ballot measure passes, recreational marijuana could become more than a $1 billion statewide industry. Nationwide, the marijuana industry reported $6.8 billion in both recreational and medicinal sales in 2016, according to a California company that tracks the information.

That’s a lot of potential tax revenue and a significant influx of cash into our state’s economy. It would be wise to be ready for it.

Other states, like Nevada, have struggled upon legalization to effectively meet demand. The state had to issue an emergency act to increase the flow of marijuana into its licensed businesses to keep out the black market.

Even with a decade of discouragement from Lansing toward medical marijuana, lawmakers have been figuring out ways to benefit from the state’s growing industry. But Michigan’s abysmal ethics regulations also pose problems for its potential recreational marijuana industry.

A five-member panel will be deciding who gets licenses. Three appointees will come from Gov. Rick Snyder; one from the Senate majority leader; one from the speaker of the House.

A panel with similar powers has been criticized in New York, as it was finally revealed to the public that panel members had almost no expertise in medical marijuana use. Patients in the state don’t feel the regulatory structure there is meeting their needs.

That’s been a complaint here, too, for years. But regulations should meet the needs of patients, businesses, voters and consumers.

There’s a lot to learn from around the country as Michigan heads into this new chapter. Lansing, take note.

kbuss@detroitnews.com

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