On Thursday, Michigan became the 10th state in the country, and the first in the Midwest, to enact legalized recreational marijuana. However, while possession and use is now legal, the state hasn’t yet start licensing medical marijuana shops to sell to recreational users — and may not for at least a year.
Under the new law, it’s legal for people 21 years of age or older to keep up to 10 ounces of marijuana in their homes, and to grow up to 12 plants for personal use. The carry limit is 2.5 ounces, the largest legal recreational carry limit in the country. But it’s still not legal to sell it. Additionally, smoking is restricted to private residential homes — it’s illegal to light up on the street or in a public park.
Licenses won’t be granted for recreational sales until the legislature approves rules and regulations, which they have until December 2019 to do. After that, they will begin accepting applications for licenses, and it’s unclear exactly how long the vetting process will take. For some context, medical marijuana sales didn’t start in the state until 2018, though it was legalized in 2016.
Brad Forrester of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) says he’s hopeful that when Governor-Elect Gretchen Whitmer takes office on January 1st, the timeline to get recreational sales started could move up. “She went to a lot of rallies,” he tells Rolling Stone. “She really sold herself to our crowd. I’m very optimistic about this.”
He says it’s possible Michigan will see the first recreational sales as soon as late 2019, but that in the meantime, “There’s a lot of cannabis already in the Michigan system. I don’t think that people who are looking for it recreationally are gonna have a hard time finding it.”
As for people in Michigan who have been charged possession and use that’s no longer illegal in the state of Michigan, CBS News reports that one county prosecutor has already started dismissing charges for minor marijuana infractions. And Whitmer has indicated that she will take steps to release people who are currently behind bars for minor infractions that are now legal, and to clear criminal records of convictions for acts that are no longer criminal, once she takes office.
“A key component of legalization is stopping the arrests,” Forrester says.
“One of the best and most important aspects of our law is that it really makes it very difficult for some average person who’s either using or growing a little bit of marijuana for themselves to get a criminal charge,” he says. “I happen to have been a victim of arrest for cultivating cannabis for my own use, so this is personal to me.”
Another key component of legalization, of course, is the economic benefit to the state. Michigan stands to bring in between $100 million and $200 million per year in tax revenue from the new industry once recreational sales are up and running — possibly more. That money will go toward the cost of regulating the industry, as well as research into medical marijuana to treat military veterans and prevent veteran suicide, plus hefty sums to public schools and infrastructure.
Forrester believes that in the long run, the biggest economic benefit could be the complete legalization of industrial hemp, which is also part of the new law.
“That part’s not as sexy,” he says, “but I don’t think a lot of people fully understand what industrial hemp can do. It could revolutionize our manufacturing industry. The possibilities are endless.”