On Nov. 6, 56 percent of Michigan voters cast ballots in favor of Proposal 1, which legalized the use, possession and sale of recreational marijuana.
In Berrien County, 33,193 residents voted for approval, and 28,857 voted against it.
Since the vote, local governments here and across the state, including St. Joseph, Oronoko Township and Niles, have taken advantage of the opt-out provision to prohibit commercial marijuana operations within their boundaries, including retail sales and grow operations.
Unlike Michigan’s medical marijuana law, which requires communities to opt in to proposed commercial ventures, Proposal 1 permits such venues unless a location has passed an opt-out ordinance.
There has a been a backlash to these measures, with residents complaining that leaders are acting against the wishes of voters.
Buchanan city commissioners backed away from an opt-out proposal after hearing objections from citizens. Coloma officials are waiting on a vote to opt out until they hear from a company that drafts laws to allow marijuana businesses.
St. Joseph Mayor Mike Garey said he hasn’t heard a lot of comments after commissioners approved their opt-out ordinance Monday. But many comments on The Herald-Palladium’s Facebook page castigated officials for passing on possible tax revenue from marijuana sales.
“Always wanting to raise millage but don’t want the tax dollars from pot sales. I know who I’m not voting for next election,” one post stated, referring to a millage increase this year for street repairs.
Other posts said they weren’t against retail pot shops, but didn’t want to see them downtown. Sales are prohibited with 1,000 feet of schools. Communities can use their zoning laws to regulate signs, hours of business and other provisions.
Proposal 1 allows residents to submit petitions to put the issue of locating commercial operations on the ballot.
The response indicates the gap between residents and elected officials. One survey found that only 21 percent of elected representatives supported passage of Proposal 1.
Buchanan commissioners this week withdrew their opt-out ordinance, explaining that they did not want to go against the will of voters, who in the city supported Proposal 1 by a vote of 833 to 660.
St. Joseph voters gave a thumbs-up to Proposal 1 by a tally of 2,439 to 1,649 against.
Many governments are pushing the opt-out button at least until state regulations are set, which is expected to take about a year.
“We’re in a holding pattern,” Garey said, until there is a final resolution from the state. Once the rules are set, Garey said commissioners expect to talk to residents about how to go forward. The city’s attorney told commissioners that passing the opt-out ordinance doesn’t prevent them from revisiting the issue.
Opting out of marijuana sales does not prohibit residents from possessing and using marijuana in their own homes. No public use is allowed.
The amount of tax revenue that could be generated by marijuana sales is “an unknown,” Garey said.
The law sets aside 35 percent of tax receipts for both roads and schools, and 15 percent for municipalities and counties where commercial businesses are located. There will be a 6 percent sales tax on marijuana, plus a 10 percent excise tax.
There are wide-ranging estimates on potential tax revenue, based on the track records of other states that have legalized recreational marijuana. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which supported legalization, estimated that statewide revenue would be $134 million a year by 2023. It anticipated that $520 million in tax revenue could be generated between 2020 and 2024.
At this figure, there would be $93.8 million for roads and schools, and $40.2 million to be divided among locations with commercial pot operations. The law sets aside the first $20 million generated for research, including the use of marijuana for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The Senate Fiscal Agency projected annual tax revenue at $287 million by 2023. It also estimated costs of $26 million for law enforcement and regulation.
Opponents of legalization said that tax revenue would be a drop in the bucket compared to the state’s overall budget.
With a great amount of confusion being raised by the new law, the Michigan Municipal League is hosting a series of seminars to answer the questions of local officials, including a session on Dec. 4 in Cassopolis.
Having a large number of communities opt out of allowing marijuana sales is not unprecedented. In Colorado, which legalized recreational pot in 2014, 75 percent of communities prohibited commercial businesses.
In Michigan, three-quarters of municipalities chose to opt out of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries, after the substance became legal in 2008. Benton Harbor and Buchanan are among the local municipalities that are welcoming medical marijuana operations.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak