Before Dec. 6, 2018 Michigan had been going through a cannabis prohibition that has seen over 200,000 people arrested over the past ten years. It stands as the first amongst Midwestern states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, with the Proposal 1 ballot gaining over 360,000 signatures and 56% voter approval.

However, the legalization effort has raised a series of questions, particularly over regulation of the plant in advance to its complete legal available on the market in 2020.

A Legacy of Fraught Legalization

Proposal 1 sets the date for legal recreational marijuana to hit the streets in 2020, with 2019 set aside as a year to work out the regulations around the upcoming industry expected to boom in the state. However, those regulations pose as many problems as they do opportunities, with the state’s history of medical marijuana regulation setting a poor example.

Described as “complicated and confusing” by Tom Ivacko, associate director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, medical marijuana’s regulations are still unclear even a decade after its legalization.

A removal of the existing medical marijuana licensing board and the creation of a new agency, with oversight for both recreational and medical cannabis regulation in the state is expected to improve the process, but it’s uncertain whether regulations will be in place for 2020 or not.


Where Marijuana Stands in Michigan

As it stands, use and possession of both recreational and medical marijuana are legal in the state of Michigan, up to 2.5 ounces or 12 plants per residence. Selling is not currently legal, but gifting is, which has led to loopholes that some businesses are making use of.

For instance, some businesses sell “gift” marijuana, where buying a poster also gets a supply of free edibles, or where buying t-shirts comes with free marijuana.


Opt-in, Opt-out

Municipalities will also have decision-making power over whether they allow marijuana retail stores to set up within it. However, only by opting in can they potentially receive a cut of the state revenue from marijuana sales. Yet, that hasn’t stopped some, even with a voting majority in favor of the proposal, opting out.

Another question raised is why municipalities are opting out from allowing cannabis stores in their jurisdiction, too. Some consider it a difference between supporting legalization in general and supporting it in their own neighborhood. Others may want personal freedom and safety from arrest, but not the stores. It may also be the case that municipalities within Michigan are waiting to see the effects of legal marijuana shops in others before they make their own decision.


Meanwhile, in Madison Heights

Madison Heights is one of the cities that has opted in, a city where one-third of all residents are union auto workers, or retired from the industry, with the rate of injury and disability levels expected of blue-collar, industrial areas. It was a city where medical marijuana usage is considered key amongst many voters, with plans to permit 14 new medical marijuana businesses to open within the city.

It represents not only an opportunity for those in the community who need access to medical products that could offer comfort, but also a chance to heighten financial investment with the renovation and revitalization of derelict industrial sites in the city.


Does Michigan Support Legalization or Not?

While two-thirds of Madison Heights’ voters approve of legalization, and the City Council has opted in to allow businesses and stores within the cities, there is a distinction between the public and the officials in Michigan when it comes to the issue.

A Spring 2018 survey, carried out by the University of Michigan’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, noted that only 21% of all local, elected officials were in support of recreation marijuana legalization. That’s a large difference from the 61% of all Michigan residents surveyed that would vote yes for a legalization incentive.

This survey was carried out just months before Proposal 1. This highlights that there are still clear differences of opinion between the public and the officials, which could only raise more questions on the regulation and implementation of the proposal come 2020.


A Hazy Future for Michigan

Questions of regulation, of mismatch between voters and their elected officials, and of whether municipalities will opt-in or out mean that Michigan’s future with marijuana, recreational and medical, is still unclear. The new regulatory body is set to clear the air and establish the order of things in time for 2020, but the public will have to wait to see what shape it takes.