Legal Recreational Marijuana Off to Somewhat Shaky Start in Michigan

And so it begins: Michigan residents woke up Dec. 6 knowing that they can smoke marijuana, at least in private, and not be arrested for it. They can carry it on their person in small amounts. They can grow it in an enclosed, out-of-view spot on their property. But there are no stores yet, because the state hasn’t figured out how to set up the regulatory and taxation scheme, and some cities are refusing to allow stores within their borders.

In the midterm elections on Nov. 6, Michigan voters approved a ballot initiative to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. Michigan becomes the first Midwest state to have recreational marijuana legalized, and the 10th state overall. Also in the midterms, Missouri became the 32nd state to approve medical marijuana, a beachhead for recreational marijuana.

One of the first things Michigan officials did following the vote was change the name of the agency that used to regulate medical marijuana (the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation) to the Bureau of Marijuana Regulation, reflecting that it will now have to provide the state’s regulations on its new recreational marijuana industry.

“While many other states have various licensing, regulation and patient programs spread throughout different departments and agencies, BMR will keep marijuana-related services in one place in order to best enhance consumer protections and make regulations more efficient for business customers,” says Shelly Edgerton, director of the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

The department is calling the new industry the “adult use” marijuana market to better reflect that legalization applies only to residents 21 or older. Under the law, these individuals can use, possess and grow marijuana. They can grow up to 12 marijuana plants in their homes and buy up to 2.5 ounces a day once commercial products are available for sale, which won’t be until next year. People can keep up to 10 ounces of marijuana locked up in their homes.

There are still some questions about smoking marijuana legally, however. That’s because there is no allowed use in public, no operating of a vehicle under the influence of marijuana, and no plants to be grown in a place accessible or visible to the public.

There still will be policing. Fines of up to $1,000 can be charged for the civil infraction of possessing between 2.5 and 5 ounces of marijuana. Third and higher offenses will be misdemeanors carrying a fine of up to $2,000. However, jail won’t be considered for the misdemeanor charge of having more than 5 ounces unless “the violation was habitual, willful and for a commercial purpose or the violation involved violence.”

People ages 18 to 20 found with any marijuana will be fined $100. For those under 18, the fine will be accompanied by mandatory drug counseling. Higher fines will be imposed for repeat offenses.

Because it’s not clear yet how the state will license recreational marijuana, there aren’t any legal dispensaries. So unless Michiganers grow their own, they still can’t legally sell or buy it. Municipalities are also allowed to ban sales, and some already have said they will.


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