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Mich. groups raise $257K in marijuana legalization bid

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Two committees supporting competing measures to legalize recreational marijuana use have raised more than $257,000 in donations and spent most of their money organizing for ballot drives, according to quarterly campaign finance reports filed this week.

The Michigan Cannabis Coalition received $252,000 from a firm called Revsix Systems headed by Oakland County Republican political consultants Matt Marsden and Dennis Darnoi in the April-June period, according to Michigan Secretary of State records and the company’s website.

The coalition spent $225,000 of the amount on a petition signature-gathering firm, National Petition Management of Brighton.

Records show the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Initiative Committee took in $5,755 from a number of smaller donors and gave $1,633 to Ann Arbor attorney David Cahill to draft ballot language.

Contributions included $1,100 each from medical marijuana advocate Chuck Ream of Ann Arbor and Matthew Abel of Detroit, a defense lawyer with a focus on defending marijuana cases, and $500 from the Michigan NORML, the state’s longtime advocate of legalizing marijuana.

The Michigan Cannabis Coalition, whose members are anonymous, proposes a law that regulates and taxes commercial-grade marijuana, while keeping the 2008 voter-approved medical cannabis law in place.

The group’s proposal relies on the Legislature to set a tax rate on marijuana sales, with all revenue dedicated to education, public health and public safety, said Marsden, who acted as the spokesman when the Board of State Canvassers approved its petition forms last month.

East Lansing lawyer Jeffrey Hank, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the 8th District last year, is the main leader for the other group, which wants to legalize the cultivation of marijuana and hemp.

Its proposal would establish a maximum 10 percent excise tax on marijuana, on top of the state’s 6 percent sales tax.

Each group must collect a minimum of 252,523 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. Both seek a voter-initiated law legalizing the cultivation, distribution, sale and personal consumption of cannabis for Michiganians 21 and older.

Federal law prohibits marijuana growing and possessing, but authorities haven’t stopped cannabis industries in four states and the District of Columbia whose voters have approved ending the prohibition.

Five other states could vote in 2016 whether to join Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska in legalizing marijuana, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.