- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan would legalize the use of marijuana for recreational use under the wording of a proposed ballot initiative submitted Thursday, the first of what could be competing legalization efforts.

If authorized by the Board of State Canvassers, the Michigan Cannabis Coalition’s initiated law would require roughly 252,000 valid voter signatures before going to the Republican-led Legislature. If lawmakers rejected the bill or took no action, it would receive a statewide vote in November 2016.

The initiative is being backed financially by six to eight anonymous people from the agricultural, real estate, insurance and education sectors, said the ballot committee’s spokesman, Matt Marsden. Donors will have to be identified later in campaign finance reports.

Marsden pointed to Ohio, where groups are collecting signatures for marijuana legalization ballot campaigns.

“We don’t want people going to Toledo spending money when we can collect (tax) revenue from it,” Marsden said, calling the drug’s eventual legalization “kind of a foregone conclusion.” ”We might as well take the reins, set it up responsibly and take the revenue from it.”

Recreational marijuana is already legal in Washington state, Colorado and Washington, D.C. It will become legal in Oregon this summer.

The proposed Michigan Cannabis Control and Revenue Act would legalize recreational marijuana use and possession for those 21 and older and not affect the state’s 2008 voter-approved law that legalized marijuana for medical purposes, said Marsden, a Republican political strategist.

“If we can create some new jobs through regulating a cash crop, we ought to try it,” he said.

Under the measure, a state board - including three gubernatorial appointees with agricultural backgrounds and two legislative appointees - would issue licenses for the commercial indoor production of marijuana and marijuana-infused products in industrial or agricultural zones. Permits would also be available to sell the drug at the retail level as long as a business was located at least 1,250 feet from a school.

No one with a felony conviction could grow or sell recreational marijuana for business purposes. A household could grow up to two flowering marijuana plants for personal use or to share with others under the legislation, which would let municipalities pass ordinances allowing up to four plants to be grown per household.

Tax revenue would be dedicated to public safety, education and public health. It would be up to legislators to set a tax rate.

Marsden offered what he said was a conservative estimate that Michigan could collect $200 million to $600 million more in tax revenue annually by fully legalizing marijuana use.

Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, expressed concern about the legalization effort and noted using marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

“It’s unrealistic (for us) to support something that’s still against the law. The ball’s in the federal government’s court first,” he said.

States where marijuana is legal for recreational use have had problems with users driving under the influence, said Stevenson, contending that “this rhetoric that our jails are full of marijuana users is … not true.” Police chiefs instead are focused on bills intended to clear up confusion surrounding the legality of marijuana dispensaries and non-smokable forms of the drug, he said.

A month ago, marijuana activists also announced their intention to launch a legalization petition drive this year. The Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Initiative Committee’s initiated bill would let residents cultivate 12 plants each - mimicking the medical marijuana law’s limit - and earmark tax revenue toward road repairs and school funding.

A nonprofit group, the Michigan Responsibility Council, is exploring a marijuana legalization ballot proposal, as well. It was formed in January by the president of the East Lansing-based Republican political firm Mitchell Research & Communications.

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Online:

Michigan Cannabis Coalition: http://www.micannabis.vote

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Follow David Eggert at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

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