It’s been a year since recreational marijuana was legalized in the state of Michigan.
But up until four weeks ago, you wouldn’t know it. That’s because most communities — 80 percent by Michigan Radio’s count — have “opted out” of allowing rec pot businesses from setting up shop, meaning the colorful billboards and marketing that typify states like Colorado are largely absent in the Mitten State.
So … what exactly is happening here?
From our reporting endeavors, The Sentinel has learned that things are happening — albeit incrementally — at the local level. Perhaps that is the wisest course of action. While it is legal to possess a large amount of pot on one’s person and at one’s house, it’s another beast altogether to have a dispensary at the corner store.
In speaking with local municipal officials, law enforcement officials, school and business leaders, it’s clear that strong concerns remain about how marijauna will affect our cities, public safety, our children’s access to drugs and what impact this might have on worker productivity.
Some early fears have proven to be unfounded. The “Reefer Madness” cries from those who opposed Prop. 1 in 2018 never materialized. In fact, nearly all of Ottawa County has “opted out,” or is waiting to see how the rollout of regulation works.
In Allegan County, the city of Fennville “opted in” to licensing recreational marijuana businesses, but other municipalities have either been slow to or have not joined them. Saugatuck Township approved licensing medical marijuana facilities earlier in 2019, but the board is yet to decide if it wants to license recreational facilities — despite nearly 61 percent of voters voting in favor of Prop. 1 in 2018.
The east side of the state had the first recreational businesses open earlier this month and business is booming. In the opening week of recreational marijuana sales, which began Dec. 1, three Ann Arbor businesses had more than $1.6 million in sales. Then in the next week, with a total of five recreational stores, shoppers spent $1.4 million in purchases.
So, if all that weed is being purchased, where is it?
It’s mostly in people’s homes. One of the more notable upticks in the public safety realm is the number of calls relating to odor complaints of marijuana. Most departments aren’t actively patrolling neighborhoods for public use or illegal growing, though.
In an era where a nationwide opioid crisis is still ever-present, weed has to take a back burner for police. So trafficking and black market sales of pot are just not high on the list of priorities.
And one of the upsides is low-level possession convictions will drop — which disproportionately affects people of color. However, drugged driving is still a major concern, especially when there still isn’t a reliable roadside testing device that allows police to test suspected drugged drivers during traffic stops (a pilot program is ongoing).
In the education sector, there is a particular challenge to discourage school-age kids from using any form of marijuana, however, there’s a strong likelihood an adult they know will have weed, edibles, oil, or another product accessible in their homes.
This will likely lead to an uptick in drug testing of kids for sports and other extracurriculars as well as increased sweeps in school properties with K9 units — at least until school officials are better able to gauge the effect on the kids they’re responsible for seven hours a day.
We would be remiss if we didn’t point out that the cultural stigma of marijuana is fading. It’s now legal in some form in 11 states, and more states are showing a greater interest in signing on. In West Michigan, a long-conservative stalwart, it’s likely we won’t see the trickle effects of this change until after more urban, progressive areas sign on and implement.
Another impact, especially in the manufacturing sector, is the effect on hiring practices and how businesses stay abreast of drug use with their employment workforce. West Michigan has experienced a talent shortage in dozens of sectors, and housing options have not been able to keep up with the area’s popularity and draw for workers.
But that’s not to say that marjuana doesn’t have its strong points. In the medicinal world, it has proven to be effective in reducing pain and nausea for those suffering with chronic pain or terminal illness. But it’s obvious that West Michigan is still not ready to fully embrace weed whole-heartedly.
We are still very early on in the process and haven’t yet seen how regulations will play out. It’s also yet to be seen if local officials can be swayed toward acceptance of marijuana — no matter how their municipalities voted in 2018.
We all will have to wait and see as the smoke settles.