Marijuana petition an option locally

ESCANABA — If municipalities choose to opt-out on allowing marijuana establishments within their boundaries, citizens that do not agree with their local government’s decision can begin a process to undo or change the city or township’s decision.

Proposal 1, now known as the “Michigan Regulation and Taxation Marihuana Act” (“marihuana” being the legal spelling of the plant in Michigan law) since it was adopted into law on Dec. 6, legalized the recreational use of marijuana by individuals 21 years of age or older statewide and also sets up the regulatory framework for controlling the commercial production and distribution of marijuana.

Jay Selthofner, the Menominee County chapter director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said he has been getting many of inquiries on the petitioning process from citizens around the Upper Peninsula.

This process is called a referendum, which allows citizens to refer a statute passed by the legislature to the ballot so voters can enact or repeal the measure. In the state of Michigan, to begin this process a petition needs to collect the signatures of registered voters equal to 5 percent of citizens that voted in the last gubernatorial election.

In the city of Escanaba, a total of 4,871 people voted for governor in the recent election. Five percent of 4,871 is 243.55, so a petitioner would need 244 signatures in the city of Escanaba to begin a referendum process.

Selthofner explained it is a little early for people to petition since most municipalities are waiting for more guidance from the state before any decisions are made. The state has until Dec. 6, 2019 to lay out its own rules on how marijuana-based businesses will be regulated.

The licensing of recreational marijuana businesses won’t occur until the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs release the rules and regulations, and then begin the process of opening up license applications.

The retail sale of marijuana is subject to a 10 percent tax intended for schools, roads and municipalities where the marijuana businesses are located. Municipalities must have a marijuana business within its borders to receive any revenue from the taxes.

The Escanaba City Council has not decided on whether the city of Escanaba will opt-out or not, although it was a heavily discussed matter at its last city council meeting on Dec. 20. The council had tried to vote on opting out or not during the meeting but failed. Council Member Ralph Blasier and Mayor Pro-tem Ron Beauchamp had voted to stay opted-in, Council Members Peggy Schumann and Michael Sattem abstained, and Mayor Marc Tall voted to opt-out.

After the failed attempt of a vote, the council came to the decision it was too soon and more information was needed before any decision could be made.

If a municipality decides to opt-out, it can choose to opt back in at any time.

Selthofner said the petitioning process is far more difficult than what most people realize.

“It is a lot of work,” he said. “It is going to be a business that wants to open up within the boundary of a municipality that will be the one willing to spend the resources needed to petition.”

Some suggestions Selthofner had for people interested in petitioning would be to look into petitioning forms that comply with state law and the municipalities additional guidelines, get an attorney to help understand the law and guidelines within the municipality, get help from people who are willing to canvas the area to get signatures and get a ballot committee together to work with the city or township clerk and councils.

“(They) also need to see how many votes were cast in the recent governor election to know how many signatures are needed and to also look to see if (their) municipality voted yes on proposal 1,” he said.

Looking into how the municipality voted towards proposal 1 is important, Selthofner explained because it helps gauge how the area would respond to a petition on the specific issue. Proposal 1 passed in Escanaba with 2,554 to 2,332 votes.

Another thing Selthofner suggests for potential petitioners is to work with their city or township officials because they know how this process works and what needs to be done.

“Don’t just try to do this without them,” he said.

If a petitioner is successful, it needs to be certified by the city or township clerk and then the municipality’s council or commission can either move to pass the ordinance or move the issue to be voted on for the next election.

This petitioning process is not just for the new marijuana law, this is something citizens always have the option to do when their local government passes an ordinance they do not agree with.

Selthofner said because the process can be difficult he suspects people will decide to run for local government positions within their municipalities instead.

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