Pot Proposal Failures Not Harshing Advocates’ Mellow

The headlines said it was a bad day for marijuana in Michigan. On MichMash, Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth say it’s more complicated.

During last week’s elections, voters rejected a number of proposed ordinances on their local ballots that would have allowed cannabis businesses to operate within their borders. 

These are the latest in a trend of similar local ballot failures since Michigan voters approved marijuana legalization for adults 21 and over last year.

The reaction to the defeats last Tuesday was swift. Some media outlets labeled it a bad day for legalized marijuana in Michigan.

But as MichMash hosts Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth point out, it’s more complicated than that.

These are very specific proposals that deal with zoning, eligibility and other things that decide who can open up marijuana shops and where they can open them. In places like Walled Lake, longtime cannabis activists who own existing businesses opposed the ballot measures and actively campaigned against them. These are owners of medical marijuana provisioning centers hoping to become recreational outlets. The proposals would have meant increased competition for those businesses and the possibility of being zoned out of the recreational market in their own communities.

Click on the player above to hear MichMash hosts Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth explain the complexities of these ballot proposals and their political implications, as well as interview with local pot activists.

Jerry Millen of The Greenhouse in Walled Lake opposed his local ordinance, which would have replaced an existing ordinance and added eight additional retail stores to operate in the community, bringing the total to 11. Millen says he wasn’t so much concerned about increased competition. He says he was concerned about going too far too fast for his community.

“I’ve put a lot of time in this industry, as have many of my friends and people I know. Good people put in a lot of time to get this where we are,” Millen says.

“And if we start letting it run amok because a couple of people in our industry are like, ‘Oh, open the cap. Make it a free-for-all!’ No. That will only cause problems.”

Other advocates for liberalizing marijuana in Michigan say they want municipalities to allow more businesses to operate. Michigan NORML board member Rick Thompson, a cannabis activist and journalist, says he’s not surprised to see current marijuana business owners opposing these kinds of ballot initiatives.

“We expect that business will behave the way business traditionally has behaved in Michigan, which is protectionism, deny opportunity to any competitors,” he says. 

But Thompson agrees with Millen that the proposals’ defeat isn’t a long term problem for Michigan’s emerging cannabis industry.

“Many of the communities who don’t allow businesses have publicly stated that they’re just waiting until 2020 before taking a serious look at adding this segment to their local economies. Most communities which are saying ‘no,’ are actually just saying ‘not yet,'” he says. 

“So, I don’t perceive this as a bad year for cannabis petitions at all,” says Thompson.

Meanwhile, the state began accepting applications for recreational marijuana businesses for the first time earlier this month. The first shops are not likely to open until spring or summer of 2020.

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  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.