NOTE: this article appeared as a column in the Michigan Cannabis Industries Report’s December 2018 issue.
Just The Beginning
from the monthly column, “Detroit Watch” by Larry Gabriel
The fear of marijuana is beginning to dispel. That was evident by the 56 percent of voters who said yes to Prop. 1 on election day. The celebrations should be about over for now because, well, there’s still work to be done. This is literally just the beginning of building a multi-billion dollar marijuana industry.
That’s not going to happen overnight and not without a lot of trepidation and there are sure to be setbacks but for now people who support legalization are happy. Those who want to be in the marijuana business have more opportunities to do that going forward. At least that should be the case because the recreational market is several times larger than the medical market. By the way, Michigan is the second largest market to legalize medical marijuana in the country. And the market in these environs is about to get a lot bigger.
California is obviously the largest market for legal marijuana in the country. It’s also a big chunk of the continent-long stretch of Pacific Coast where legal recreational marijuana is available. That’s just become the case because Mexico’s Supreme Court recently declared that country’s marijuana laws unconstitutional, in effect legalizing it.
That’s a long stretch but back here in the Midwest we have a Third Coast. The Great Lakes coast looks set to become the next cluster of marijuana legal states and Michigan has the lead position. Almost every state touching the Great Lakes is poised to make changes in its marijuana laws.
Newly-elected Illinois governor J.B. Pritzger, who was pro marijuana during the campaign, has already announced that he wants the legislature to move quickly on legalization. Minnesota governor-elect is on the record for tweeting, “I support legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use by developing a system of taxation, guaranteeing that it is Minnesota grown, and expunging the records of Minnesotans convicted of marijuana crimes.”
Voters in 16 Wisconsin counties and two cities overwhelmingly passed nonbinding referendums calling for marijuana law reform — medical and recreational. Ohioans are voting on a recreational legalization initiative in November 2019.
In New York State, where medical marijuana is legal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo set up a working group to explore legislation in August and went on a listening tour about marijuana before he was reelected. He hasn’t said anything about legalization since the election. But the working group is working.
In Indiana, the state legislature is exploring the idea of medical marijuana. The legislature in Pennsylvania, where there is medical marijuana, just passed up opportunities to address recreational legalization in the 2017-2018 session. Leaving its 76.6-mile shoreline as the only part of the Great Lakes where no change in marijuana law is being considered.
Maybe it’s fitting that the first provisioning center licensed under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act was named Third Coast Compassion Center. The Third Coast is ready to rock. Michigan has been the first domino, but the rest of the states are going to tumble fast with politicians getting in on the movement. People such as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who spoke about legalization at the Economic Club of Chicago in November, are easing the pain.
“The things we most feared — a peak in teenage consumption, a peak in overall consumption, people driving while high — we haven’t seen,” he said. “I’m not quite there to say this is a great success, but the old system was awful.”
This message shakes the core arguments against recreational legalization. As information spreads so will legalization. Although when you look at where marijuana has been made legal it paints a devastating picture for the end of prohibition. The populations of all the states where medical or recreational marijuana are legal, plus Washington DC, Canada and Mexico add up to about 300 million.
The entire population of North America is 361 million. That means that more than eight out of 10 people in North America live where there is some form of legal access to marijuana. If you don’t count the states that have only medical marijuana, it comes to just under 7 out of 10 people who live where adult use recreational marijuana is legal. And that number is set to swell, large populations states such as New York, Ohio and Illinois are on the short list for recreational legalization.
The next wave of marijuana legalization will be more about legislatures than signatures. Politicians live by numbers, and the number of people they’re seeing that support marijuana changes the fear factor. It’s almost like politicians fear opposing marijuana. In this last election, the worst thing a major candidate could say about marijuana legalizations was to accept the will of the people.
That’s a huge change. Fear of marijuana has left the equation on the political front.
Larry Gabriel is a Detroit-based journalist who has been editor of the Metro Times, UAW Solidarity magazine and the American Cultivator, as well as an editor and writer for the Detroit Free Press. Gabriel has won several awards from the Michigan Press Association and Association of Alternative Newsmedia.