The following article first appeared in the Michigan Cannabis Industries Report, August 2018 issue, LINK TO WEBSITE and was authored by Rick Thompson.
On August 7, 2018, Michigan and three other states will hold primary elections for candidates seeking certain offices. On this day both Republicans and Democrats hold separate elections to determine which of their candidates will represent the party on the ballot for the general election, held November 7.
Although primary elections are thought of as places to choose party representatives for big statewide offices such as Governor they also feature every office where the party’s choice of candidate is contested. That includes races for Senate and House of Representatives, local offices and even millage proposals.
In Michigan, 2018’s election will feature a cast of characters which are on opposite sides of the cannabis issue. The medical marijuana business program is in its infancy and many of the rules and regulations which govern those companies are still being created. State/local leadership in 2019 and beyond will determine in many ways the success and breadth of the program; Michigan can have a robust medical marijuana supply and distribution network or it can have an over-regulated and skimpy network. Our choice of leaders will shape the future of the industry.
In addition this year’s ballot will feature Proposal 1, the legalization of marijuana for adult use in Michigan. Cannabis businesses and associated entities should note that, in order to ensure a smooth integration of legalization into Michigan’s business environment, the only businesses which are allowed to operate in the five MMFLA-regulated industries for the first two years of the legalization proposal are MMFLA-approved companies. Legalization of cannabis for adult use should be very profitable for those MMFLA-approved businesses and all ancillary industries.
MMFLA businesses and the ancillary industries which support them would be wise to help elect persons for state office which want to ensure the success of the program instead of impede and neuter it. This guide will explain the candidate’s positions on marijuana use in general and legalization in specific. In some races there are several candidates publicly embracing cannabis law reform; this guide should help sort out the candidates for major governmental roles. House races are too numerous to cover in their entirety, but certain races will be emphasized.
Michigan can have a robust medical marijuana supply and distribution network or it can have an over-regulated and skimpy network. Our choice of leaders will shape the future of the industry.
In addition this year’s ballot will feature Proposal 1, the legalization of marijuana for adult use in Michigan. In order to ensure a smooth integration of legalization into Michigan’s medical marijuana business system, the only businesses which are allowed to operate in the five regulated industries for the first two years after legalization is approved are MMFLA-approved companies. Legalization of cannabis for adult use should be very profitable for those MMFLA-approved businesses and all ancillary industries.
Candidates for Governor- An Overview
The Governor sets the tone for the state, appoints persons to key positions in government and has veto power over the legislature. The contrast between the two party’s major candidates on cannabis issues is stark and definitive.
“All the Democratic gubernatorial candidates — former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, former Detroit Health Department Director Abdul El-Sayed and retired businessman Shri Thanedar, as well as attorney general candidate Dana Nessel — favor the pot legalization proposal…
All of the Republican candidates for governor — Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Saginaw Township doctor Jim Hines, as well as Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, and Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, who are running for attorney general, oppose legalizing marijuana, but they have said they would respect the will of the voters if the measure passes.”
Detroit Free Press, June 18, 2018
Most of the current candidates for their party’s gubernatorial nominations spoke out against US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ nullification of the Cole Memo earlier in 2018. Far less uniform has been their response to issues like expungement of criminal records for cannabis users in a post-legalization Michigan and the legislature’s effort to adopt and radically alter the marijuana legalization proposal prior to the November election. Generally the Democrats favor expungement and opposed legislative tinkering; their Republican counterparts, the opposite.
Age: 64 midland
Current Attorney General, former Appellate Judge and legislator
“We should not go down this road of legalizing drugs. It exposes young kids, children, to ever more potent drug use and I think that’s not good for them in the future.”
Bill Schuette fought hard against the medical marijuana law in 2008 while still a sitting member of the Appellate Court. Once elected to the position of Attorney General in 2010 he distinguished himself as a staunch obstructionist and tinkerer with the state’s medical marijuana program. In May Calley said Schuette “led the charge” against the law approved by voters in 2008 and fought the legal drug as attorney general, “keeping patients from the medicine they need.” Although he has stepped back from the ferocity of his anti-cannabis policies in the last few years, the prohibitionist legacy Schuette created for himself remains intact.
“NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre told MT Schuette “may be the single most anti-marijuana attorney general in the country.””
Metro Times, May 2018
Should Schuette win the Republican nomination for governor, it is almost guaranteed that he will use his candidacy to actively campaign to defeat the cannabis legalization proposal.
It is very difficult to imagine that a man who has made so much of his career about cannabis prohibition would embrace the MMFLA program without trying to skew the financial benefits toward his deep-pocketed nd influential friends. Equally unlikely is that the man whom the cannabis community refers to as “Darth Schuette” would administer the new adult use program as written by the authors of the ballot proposal and as expected by the voters who approve it.
Age: 41 portland
Current Lieutenant Governor under Rick Snyder
“When it comes to legalization overall of marijuana, while I do support medical marijuana, I don’t support overall recreational legalization.” – Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley
MLive, February 2018
This mantra has been repeated by Lt. Governor Calley repeatedly during thiscampaign: I support medical marijuana but not legalization. In a recent debate, Calley addresses the legalization issue with a single sentence declaring opposition to the proposal before immediately transitioning into discussing the opioid crisis. He seems to be portraying himself as the sole Republican candidate who has respected the medical marijuana program and will be trustworthy to implement the will of the people should legalization be approved.
That is a convenient position to take, considering Calley has no voting record to evaluate. Calley is on record from 2015 as being opposed to adding autism to the list of conditions which quality a person to use medicinal cannabis- even though his own daughter has autism.
Age: 46 east lansing
Former Prosecutor for Ingham County, former Representative and Senate Minority Leader
“We’ve seen other states do it wrong. In Michigan, we’ve got a chance to do it right,” said former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday night in a candidate forum hosted by MI Legalize…
“This is an opportunity to go a step further and say, here in Michigan, we’re going to embrace the legalization, but we’re also going to grow our economy,” Whitmer said. “We’re going to create real clear rules so that we can do this so that we don’t leave patients, we don’t leave small business owners to fend for themselves.”
Detroit News, February 14, 2017
Whitmer, a former House Representative for six years and a Michigan Senator for eight more, has an ample record to draw from when determining her committment to cannabis law reform issues and related topics. Her statements regarding asset forfeiture and influence peddling by big corporate donors during the debate over the Pharmaceutical Grade Medical Cannabis Act legislation indicate a willingness to fight against the powerful to create proper laws and bright-line regulations for overreaching governmental agencies, including the law enforcement lobby.
The presumptive Democratic nominee is openly supportive of legal and medical cannabis programs in Michigan. She often relates her personal story of watching her mother pass away from illness, only to wonder if cannabis medicines could have extended her parent’s life or eased some suffering. She told that story to the crowd at Hash Bash this year, and the response from the attendees indicated the people connected with her on this issue. As the Democrat with the biggest name recognition in the race for the nomination, Whitmer leads the pack in polling as August 7 approaches.
Age: 63 ann arbor
“Thanedar, a businessman who is largely self-funding his campaign, argued that Michigan’s next governor needs to make sure “big business doesn’t hijack” the prospective legal marijuana industry.
“We’ve got to make sure we support the small businesses, we support the entrepreneurs and we fight any kind of attempt by the federal government to take away people’s rights,” he said.
Detroit News, November 14, 2017
Sri Thanendar is a first-time candidate and has no record of public service to draw from. The self-made millionaire has spent several of those millions on television ads in an attempt to lift his name recognition. In the ads he pokes fun at his own name and avoids mentioning his adversaries by theirs. His humor makes the commercials memorable and his image ads don’t let the politics interfere with self-promotion.
Recent polls indicate that strategy seems to be working, as Thanendar has overtaken El-Sayed for the second place spot in the Democratic primary.
Since all the Democratic candidates for governor seem to be on the sme page when it comes to cnnabis law reform, voters have to decide if this candidate’s business-heavy, political experience-light background benefits them. Controversy has sprung up regarding Thanendar’s past business dealings, including using animals as test subjets and his sometimes fuzzy status as a supporter of both Democratic and Republican candidates, including Marco Rubio.
Also very well-known is Thanendar’s $1.5 million gift to his employees when he sold his company. That’s the problem with political unknowns- everyone searches for past events to help predict future performance, and that is far from an exact science. Thanendar will most likely not be competing for the job of governor in the November general elections, but a few years of seasoning in a lesser political position will make him a viable candidate in the future.
Age: 33 detroit
Physician and former Detroit Health Department Director
“This has become a civil rights issue,” El-Sayed said, pointing to statistics showing criminal enforcement has had a disproportionate impact on low-income communities and African-Americans. “We have an opportunity here in Michigan to rethink marijuana.”
Abdul El-Sayed, a medical doctor and former Detroit Health Department director, said he has seen first-hand the efficacy of medical marijuana to treat seizures and believes full legalization would open the door to more rigorous research on its effects.”
Detroit News, November 14, 2017
Abdul El-Sayed is an experienced physician and administrator, having run the Detroit Health Department. He is a savvy candidate whose future in politics seems ensured by his strong campaign performance this year. As an advocate for marijuana law reform his zeal for the subject is counterbalanced by his focus on phrases like, “more research needed,” and expressions of concern about a lack in proper dosing guidance. His message is popular and will endure long after November 6.
candidates for Attorney General
Age: 48 plymouth
Attorney and former Prosecutor
“Nessel, a vocal advocate for recreational legalization, called Sessions’ reversal “horrifying” and said Michigan needs an attorney general who will stand up to “the Trump agenda.”
““It is absolutely a gross display of federal overreach for Sessions to subvert states’ rights and return to failed policies that harm families, fill prisons with non-violent people, cost states billions of dollars they don’t have to spare and do nothing to combat the real drug epidemic facing this nation,” Nessel said in a statement.”
Detroit News, January 9, 2018
Few people in recent memory have sparked interest like candidate Dana Nessel. An attorney with both prosecutor and defender experience, she took a case of LGBT marriage equality to the United States Supreme Court and won- defeating the team representing Bill Schuette and the Michgian A.G.’s office. Her candidacy has been supported by the LGBT community, the cannabis community and other traditionally Democratic communities. Although Democratic leadership backed her opponent for the party nomination, she easily defeated him during an election held at the Michigan Democratic Convention.
The next Michigan Attorney General will certainly oversee the MMFLA rollout and most likely will be overseeing the first eight years of Michigan’s legalized adult use of cannabis program. Nessel seems to be the only candidate who sincerely looks forward to it.
“Nessel acknowledged people aren’t going to have an AG that does everything they want. But she said that, “the more that I let people know the kinds of lawsuits I will likely be bringing, I think everybody will agree . . . that’s just the decent human thing to do.””
MIRS News, June 2
Age: 37 dewitt township
Current House Majority Leader
“Do I personally support the legalization of recreational use marijuana? Absolutely not,” Leonard said. “But if the citizens of this state, if they choose to pass that during the next election cycle, then certainly as the next attorney general I would do everything I can to ensure the will of the people is upheld.”
Detroit News, January 9, 2018
As Speaker of the House, Tom Leonard has championed Republican ideals- and fought his own party over cannabis matters. After the legalization of cannabis proposal was approved for the 2018 ballot, the legislature considered adopting the language in order to amend the program to their liking. There was significant friction between the House and Senate Republican leadership over this issue, and that friction became a heavy conflict between Leonard and the old guard party leadership.
Age: 50 lawton
“Schuitmaker, in a statement provided to The News, said she also would enforce state law and hopes that medical marijuana use will not be a top priority for federal prosecutors that oversee terrorism, immigration, corruption and civil rights cases. “The federal government has been inconsistent about enforcement for many years and should decide on a clear and consistent standard,” Schuitmaker said…
“The people of Michigan should decide what is best for Michigan.”
Detroit News, January 9, 2018
That statement from candidate Schuitmaker came after Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Momorandum in early 2018. The federal government is not likely to deliver a “clear and consistent standard” on cannabis law any time soon, and should Schuitmaker become the Attorney General she will have to act independent from and in the absence of universal federal policy. This western Michigan lawmaker has a terrible voting record on cannabis issues. Concerns exist about her ties to entrenched anti-cannabis financial supporters and her past statements.
110 seats available
Every seat is up for reelection this year, and it’s time to look at who has advocated for cannabis law reform
Who will have control of the House of Representatives in 2019? That is the big question going in November’s General Election. The Republicans have controlled the House and Senate for eight years, but the two chambers often sparred and were dysfunctional as a team (see Tom Leonard). Still, Republicans were able to push many cannabis-related bills through, including legislation creating the MMFLA program, adjustments to asset forfeiture, amendments to the MMMA and bills aimed at clarifying driving rules and landlord/caregiver relations.
2019 will be a busy year for Representatives new and old. They will be tasked with ensuring the cannabis legalization proposal is enacted with the intent of the people in mind, clear away the cobwebs of administrative overregulation in the MMFLA and counteract any effort to restrict Michigan’s cannabis programs by the federal government.
In an age where nearly everyone claims to support medical or legalized adult use of cannabis, it’s hard to sort out which person is saying the politically correct thing and which person is truly a cannabis law reformer. Candidate ERIC GUNNELS is running for the House amid a trio of Democrats in the 48th District; he has a years-long record of support for cannabis law reform and was recently featured on the international cable news program The Young Turks.
Be wary of some current and former legislators who have sponsored bills which sought to add additional restrictions on medical marijuana patients, tried to impose unscientific driving standards, added additional steps in the approval process or used the MMFLA program to create business opportunities for their colleagues.
38 seats available
The upper chamber is where manipulation of the cannabis industry has been most successful
Much like the report on the House of Representatives, the Michigan Senate is a check valve on the workings of both the current gubernatorial administration and the sometimes-excitable House. As such the Senate occupies a unique position in the triumvirate of power in Michigan’s political system.
Due to term limits, long-term conservative stalwarts Rick Jones, Arlan Meekhof and Tonya Schuitmaker will be gone from the Senate. There are hopes that a less law enforcement-friendly composition to the chamber will result in cannabis lawmaking which is more grounded in science and less focused on fear.
Current Senate Minority Leader JIM ANANICH from Flint should be returned to the chamber in a district which votes Democratic every time. Former House Representative JEFF IRWIN should advance to the general election as the Senate nominee for the Democrats from the Ann Arbor area.
1 senate, 14 house seats available
Federal policy is at stake
Being pro-business is not the same as being pro-cannabis business. A number of candidates who claim to be pro-business also declare they do not support states’ rights to regulate cannabis businesses. Be wary when selecting candidates to support, especially in the federal races where individual accomplishments are not scrutinized as closely as actions made by in-state legislators are.
Debbie Stabenow, the reigning Democratic queen of Michigan’s congressional contingent, has not been outstanding on the subject of cannabis law reform but should retain her seat. Her Green Party challenger, Marcia Squier, has a pro-cannabis platform. The two Republican challengers for the seat lack the name recognition needed to defeat Stabenow, who has been in the Senate for 18 years already. In the U.S. House, 3rd District candidate Justin Amash has proven himself to be a supporter of federal cannabis law reform and the Republican should win re-election in a district his party dominates. Same thing goes for the 5th District and the candidacy of Dan Kildee, a Democrat.
Other races which feature interesting matchups: Tim Wahlberg, who is unabashedly anti-cannabis, faces off against Democrat Gretchen Driskell in a 7th District which has seen pro-cannabis local laws passed; the 9th District, where an open seat is sure to be filled by either Andy Levin or Ellen Lipton; and the 11th District, where 4 big-name Republicans and 4 tough Democrats are fighting for party nominations for a vacant office.
Johnny Green is a cannabis activist from Oregon. Johnny has a bachelor's degree in public policy, and believes that the message should always be more important than the messenger. #LegalizeIt #FreeThePlant
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