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Michigan voters have approved Proposal 1 to legalize recreational marijuana, but residents will have to wait nearly a month to legally light up and much longer for retail sales.

The initiative will become law 10 days after election results are certified, which legally must happen by at least Nov. 26, according to Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams.

That means adults over the age of 21 will be able to legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana by Dec. 6, perhaps sooner if election results are certified prior to the deadline.

Smoking marijuana in public will not be legal under the new law, nor will driving under the influence of marijuana. And businesses could still fire employees who fail drug tests.

"Even on the day marijuana becomes legal, nobody should go out in the street and spark up a joint in celebration," said Josh Hovey, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. 

People should also "be understanding of what their employer's drug-free work policies are and make sure they're not in violation," Hovey added.

The ban on public consumption includes edible marijuana and vapes, said Matthew Abel, a marijuana activist and attorney with the Cannabis Counsel. 

His advice for novices who will be able to legally use the drug next month: "Start slow, go low."

"People who haven't consumed in a long time have to be especially careful, and they should be in a safe environment where they're not going to use any heavy machinery or operating any vehicles," Abel said.

It could take more than a year for recreational pot shops to begin retail sales in Michigan. Under the law, the state must begin accepting applications within 12 months. If that doesn’t happen, businesses could apply directly to a municipality.

However, local governments will have the option to prohibit all marijuana businesses or limit the number that can operate within their jurisdiction.

Medical pot dispensaries will remain off limits to residents without a medical marijuana card, but the new law will allow residents to home grow up to 12 marijuana plants each for personal use.

Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Director Shelly Edgerton expressed hope Wednesday that the creation of a regulatory framework for the legalized adult use marijuana industry would be a swifter process than that of the state’s medical marijuana industry, but she noted the proposal allows the department a year.

The department has pieces used for the medical marijuana framework that can be “scaled up” for the adult use industry, Edgerton said.

Unlike the medical marijuana business licensing process, the adult use market requires the approval of the department and not of a licensing board, a unit that’s been blamed for some of the delays in licensing medical marijuana businesses.

Additionally, the adult use marijuana business licensing process may not be as stringent as what’s in place for medical, “only because of the way the language is written,” Edgerton said.

Edgerton, who’s been with LARA for 11 years, said she has indicated she would stay on as director under Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer if asked.

“We’ll just see what happens,” she said.

The law will not require employers to change their own workplace marijuana rules and will not prohibit them from disciplining employees for violations. Companies could refuse to hire or decide to fire people who fail a drug test or work while under the influence of marijuana. 

Some businesses in states that legalized the drug have reconsidered their "zero tolerance" marijuana policies, said Douglas Mains, an attorney with the Honigman law firm who helped draft the proposal and served as legal counsel for the campaign.

"Employers are starting to look at this," he said. "With the tight job market, some companies are struggling to hire as it is."

Several employers have already contacted labor and employment attorneys at Honigman to ask about the impact of Proposal 1, Mains said. Entrepreneurs inside and outside the state are also asking about business opportunities in Michigan's soon-to-be legal marketplace.

"By and large, the majority of calls that we're getting are from people who want to get involved in this industry," Mains said. "I think there are people who are looking at the Michigan market being the first in the Midwest to go with adult use as a very attractive market."

For the first two years, the state will only award some commercial license types to companies already working in Michigan's regulated medical marijuana industry. So entrepreneurs looking to jump into the industry may want to start on the medical side, Mains said. 

The law does not prohibit retail stores from obtaining licenses to sell both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana, but it remains unclear what kind of rules the state might adopt to differentiate sales at those types of facilities.

Ammar Kattoula, operational manager of Green Skies, which operates three dispensaries in Detroit including Far West, said Tuesday's vote "validates our business, validates what we’re doing and making sure it’s safe for everyone as opposed to being sold on the streets. Cities can opt out and people still have to use their discretion.”

While the company is operating under the new rules for a medical marijuana law voters approved in 2008, "that is sort of like a jump off to recreational," Kattoula said. 

"We, in turn, have to have people who are medically trained, who know the product and understand the patient. We suspect that recreational spots are about a year away. We’re preparing ourselves now by hiring more employees and giving them the training they need so we can hit the ground running.”

Dispensary spokesman Thomas Nafso said it will make little to no difference to medical patients.

“In terms of what is the landscape of this look like as you’re driving down the road, it doesn’t really change. There are municipality zones and from a retail standpoint, it’s not going to change the complexion of this industry. It simply changes who can now walk into a center.”

Tiffany Fleck from Farmington Hills went Wednesday into the Far West dispensary, at 21221 Eight Mile in Detroit, excited after the passing of Proposal 1, saying now the green plus signs can proudly stand as marijuana leaves.

“Of course, I’m ecstatic. I’ve been waiting for this for years,” said Fleck, 32, as she purchased her edible and oil. “This is a huge step forward, especially for people who don’t want to go to the doctor to apply for a medical card. … It’ll make it easier for drug testing and takes it off the black market."

Whitmer indicated Wednesday she will explore legislation or executive action to free inmates and expunge criminal records for those convicted of marijuana crimes that will become legal under the new law. 

Officials with Healthy and Productive Michigan, the group that campaigned against the ballot initiative, said Wednesday they intend to continue fighting the full implementation of the law through legal, legislative and local means. In particular, the group plans to assist communities that want to "opt out" and prohibit commercial operations. 

Additional rules will be decided by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Staff writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.

joosting@detroitnews.com

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