Pot proposal wins as do two voting rights ballot questions

Proposal 1 would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants per household.

Michigan voters passed a ballot proposal that will make the state the first in the Midwest to legalize recreational marijuana. And two other initiatives aimed at ensuring voting rights have prevailed as well.

Proposal 1, which legalizes a small amount of pot, passed with 57 percent approval, the Associated Press declared early Wednesday. Proposal 2, an initiative to create an independent commission to redistrict Michigan’s political maps, passed with 61.2 percent approval. And a measure to reinstate straight-ticket voting and ease access to the ballot box, Proposal 3, passed with 67.4 percent, according to early results with 71 percent of precincts reporting.

The ballot proposals were met with intense debate. They have drawn millions of dollars in support and opposition; prompted attack ads; and, in some cases, spawned legal battles on their path to making the November ballot. 

The plan to legalize recreational marijuana — or Proposal 1 — will allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants per household. Michigan will become the 10th state to legalize marijuana possession and use.

“Western and northeastern states have led the way on legalizing marijuana, but the victory in Michigan powerfully demonstrates the national reach of this movement,” said Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “With such overwhelming public support for marijuana legalization, even including majorities of Republicans and older Americans, there’s only so long that the federal government can continue to hold out.”

The initiative will allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants per household. The ballot proposal from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol will prohibit marijuana consumption or smoking in a public place or private location where the owner forbids it. And it won’t override workplace drug policies.

The measure allows for licensing of businesses that grow, process, test, transport or sell marijuana with three classes of cultivator licenses. Municipalities would be able to prohibit or limit the number and types of facilities within their boundaries.

With its passage, possession will become legal immediately after the law goes into effect, which would be 10 days after Tuesday’s election results are certified. The state would have to start accepting license applications within one year.

Proponents say the initiative aligns with a new, strong regulatory system for emerging medical marijuana businesses in Michigan, and that it could add millions annually in tax revenue. The plan would impose a 10-percent excise tax on retail marijuana sales in addition to the state's 6-percent sales tax.

In a room decked out in campaign signs and literature at the Radisson Hotel in Lansing, organizers and advocates of the proposal were “cautiously optimistic” late Tuesday about a win. Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the ballot committee, noted poll results had consistently favored the marijuana legalization measure.

Wearing a cowboy belt buckle, a Stetson, and a T-shirt that read “Cops say legalize pot,” Howard Wooldridge joined advocates of the pot proposal in Lansing. A retired Bath Township police detective, 67-year-old Wooldridge said he felt confident about Proposal 1’s chances Tuesday. 

“I’m here because I want to have my colleagues in Michigan focus on serious bad guys, pedophiles, drunk drivers and other public safety threats,” Wooldridge said. “We will do a better job going forward tonight if we stop wasting time on marijuana.”

But some advocacy groups and community leaders opposed the plan, saying it could lead to more crime while failing to offer solutions to social justice issues. Those include the Detroit Branch NAACP and Healthy and Productive Michigan, a committee that's been working to defeat it. 

In a statement late Tuesday, Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Director Shelly Edgerton said that under Proposal 1 the department is responsible for implementing the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act. 

"Our licensing and regulatory infrastructure for medical marihuana can be scaled up to incorporate the oversight of adult-use marihuana," Edgerton said. "We intend to offer more details regarding the commercial production and distribution of marihuana for adult-use after the Michigan Board of Canvassers certifies the election results.”

Shana Chambers, a 53-year-old Ingham County worker from Lansing, said she has concerns with the medical marijuana law voters approved in 2008: "You started seeing (dispensaries) on every other corner, two and three of them, and then liquor stores. So what message is that sending to the youth?"

Voters also decided a proposed constitutional amendment to ax Michigan's current redistricting process — in which the party in power redraws legislative and congressional district boundaries every 10 years — in favor of an independent, 13-member commission made up of four self-identified Republicans, four Democrats and five people not affiliated with any party.

Ballot Proposal 2 saw more than a $1 million in campaign contributions on both sides of a measure that faced multiple hurdles on its path to the ballot, including disputes before the Board of State Canvassers, the state Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court.

In their argument before the Supreme Court, lawyers for Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, an opposition group funded by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, argued the plan puts the task of redistricting into the hands of random appointees, instead of representatives elected by the people.

The proposal, put forward by the committee Voters Not Politicians, aims to combat gerrymandering, the manipulation of political boundaries to ensure a certain party dominates elections. In 2001 and 2011, the process was controlled by the GOP-led Legislature. 

Late Tuesday, the committee declared victory on the proposal it contends "takes the power of redistricting away from politicians and lobbyists and gives it to voters."

“Our state constitution begins with, ‘All political power is inherent in the people,’” Katie Fahey, founder and executive director of Voters Not Politicians, said in a statement. “Thousands of volunteers, from every county in our state, and spanning across political party lines, dedicated two years of their time, talents, and passion to make this people-powered campaign a reality.

"We’ve proven that when a thoughtful group of passionate citizens band together to try and fix the problems our politicians won’t, we can make our state a better place."

The proposal has garnered support from celebrities and politicians and received roughly $13.8 million in contributions from late July through late October. But opponents contend it's overly complex and lacks spending caps. Michigan Freedom Fund, which has ties to the DeVos family of west Michigan, has chipped in roughly $2.8 million of the opposition group’s $3.1 million in funding.

"The passage of Proposal 2 does not change the fact that giving 13 unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats unlimited spending authority is bad policy," Tony Daunt, spokesman for the opposition committee Protect My vote, said in a statement.

"We look forward to educating Michigan residents about their rights under this amendment and will keep all available options open moving forward." 

The redistricting commissioners will earn at least 25 percent of the governor’s salary of $159,300 a year, or $39,820. Commissioner salaries together with consulting, legal and administrative costs would tally up to at least 25 percent of the secretary of state’s general fund budget, or $4.6 million.

The commission is to convene no later than Oct. 15, 2020, the year of the next federal census, and adopt a redistricting plan no later than Nov. 1, 2021.

Finally, the "Promote the Vote" initiative, or ballot Proposal 3, will amend the state's Constitution in the name of "voting rights" to allow no-reason absentee voting by mail, to reinstate straight-ticket voting and to let residents register to vote up to and on Election Day.

Opponents contend it would make the state more vulnerable to voter fraud and is overly vague, creating redundancy with state and federal laws. The measure is backed by a coalition that includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, League of Women Voters of Michigan, the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, Michigan League for Public Policy and others.

The proposal will allow state residents to vote by mail or in person up to 15 days before an election, up from 30 days covered under the current law. Voters could also register in-person with proof of residency through Election Day.

Michigan currently allows absentee by-mail voting for seniors over the age of 60 and younger voters who provide a valid excuse, such as a disability or plans to be out of town on Election Day. Voters would not need an excuse under the ballot proposal.

The effort also restores straight-ticket voting which was eliminated by the state Legislature, a move upheld by a panel of the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. 


Staff writer Jonathan Oosting contributed