Pot legalization group stops collecting signatures

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
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Lansing — A group seeking to put recreational marijuana legalization on the November 2016 ballot abruptly stopped collecting signatures at the end of September, prompting a competing pro-pot group to speculate the other campaign is faltering.

“We’ve heard rumors they were out of money. We haven’t seen them on the street,” said Jeff Hank, chair of the MI Legalize campaign. “To take a month off from petitioning is odd.”

But Republican political consultant Matt Marsden, who is heading the Michigan Cannabis Coalition, says the campaign is taking a “pause” to study the 210,000 voters who have already signed in pursuit of the minimum 252,523 valid voter signatures needed to get on the ballot.

This group is largely funded by RevSix Data Systems, Marsden’s Pontiac-based voter data company that is trying to use the voter signatures to build a winning campaign strategy instead of just earning a spot on the ballot, Marsden said.

“Our pause is a strategic pause,” Marsden said.

RevSix Data Systems has been inputting the names of voters who have signed the pro-marijuana petitions into the company’s voter history database to build a geographic and demographic map of likely voters across the state who they could tap for grassroots support next year, Marsden said.

“We’re trying to reshape how ballot proposals are done,” Marsden said. “We have the ability and the time to take a break, study this and put it in a file so down the road we won’t have to spend as much money on campaigning and polling.”

RevSix has sunk $402,000 into the campaign, including $150,000 from in-kind services Marsden and his business partner Dennis Darnoi have provided.

Michigan Cannabis Coalition had $67,197 in cash on hand as of Oct. 20 and owed $64,006 in debts to attorneys, a fundraiser and a signature-gathering company, according to a campaign finance report filed Monday.

While both groups are trying to establish state-sanctioned marijuana cultivation for recreational use, their competing proposals have different approaches to following Colorado, Washington and other states in challenging the federal prohibition of cannabis.

MI Legalize proposes a maximum 10 percent excise tax on marijuana, on top of the state’s 6 percent sales tax. It wants to direct 40 percent of marijuana tax revenue to roads, 40 percent to schools and the remaining 20 percent for cities where the cannabis is sold.

The Michigan Cannabis Coalition’s proposal does not require a special tax on marijuana.

Another major difference between the two proposals is the number of marijuana plants an individual could legally grow for recreational consumption.

Hank’s group is seeking a 12-plant limit for homegrowing, while Marsden’s group wants a two-plant limit and the ability for municipalities to permit more marijuana plants in homes at an added fee.

MI Legalize said it had $54,162 in the bank and $3,727 in debts on Oct. 20, according to a campaign finance report.

The group is feverishly trying to raise money to match a $100,000 contribution from a donor who will remain anonymous until the next legally required reporting period, Hank said.

MI Legalize raised $11,000 at a Sunday fundraiser in Ypsilanti and $17,000 at a fundraiser in Flint last week, he said.

The group raised $23,000 Wednesday night at $500-a-ticket event at the Roostertail banquet hall with Detroit City Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry, Hank said.

“We’re full speed ahead,” he said. “We’ve got this $100,000 matching funds on the line.”


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