On Sunday, the state became the first in the Midwest to allow residents to purchase cannabis for recreational use. Sales topped $221,000 that day.
Millions of shoppers around the country hit the stores this past weekend in search of all kinds of sales. In Michigan, one new product in particular grabbed headlines: marijuana.
Or “marihuana,” as the state legislature calls it.
Sunday marked the beginning of recreational marijuana sales in Michigan: Three Ann Arbor-area shops opened their doors for business and brought in $221,000 in sales, The Detroit News reports. The estimated sales figures do not include $22,100 paid to the state via the 10 percent excise tax on recreational marijuana or the $14,586 generated by a 6 percent sales tax, according to the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency.
Arbors Wellness, Exclusive Brands, and Greenstone Provisions opened at 10 a.m. on Dec. 1, and quickly experienced long lines: Hundreds of customers streamed in and out of their doors throughout the day.
The promise of public revenue was among the reasons 56 percent of Michigan residents voted to legalize marijuana in 2018, making the state the 10th in the nation and the first in the Midwest to permit the sale of marijuana for adult use. Anyone over the age of 21 with a valid form of identification is now eligible to buy cannabis from licensed retailers.
While there are currently only three stores open, MichiganLive reports that state officials have also issued four additional retail licenses—two more in Ann Arbor, one in Morenci and one in Evart—and expect at least a dozen licenses to be issued statewide by the beginning of 2020.
Local jurisdictions can opt out of sales, and more than 1,400 (or 79 percent) have done so, including Detroit, the largest city in the state. The Detroit City Council voted in November to temporarily ban the sale of marijuana for adult use until Jan. 31, 2020, to give the city time to determine how to best regulate sales of the product.
While Michigan was the first Midwestern state to implement adult-use marijuana, it will soon be joined by Illinois, where recreational sales are set to begin on Jan. 1.
In addition to ending prohibition, the new state law also makes more than 700,000 low-level cannabis criminal records eligible for expungement. For residents who have been convicted of possession of 30 grams or less, their expungements will be automatic.
The measure also includes a “social equity program,” which will make it easier for those who have been hurt the most by the war on drugs to enter the cannabis industry. Among other things, the program allocates $12 million in funding for marijuana-related start-ups and provides resources to affected communities.
Michigan’s program also includes a social equity component, but doesn’t address criminal record expungement. Rather, the state has placed an emphasis on encouraging people from 19 Michigan communities “which have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement” to participate in the industry.
Lawmakers, however, are pushing to address marijuana-related offenses prior to legalization. In November, the Michigan House approved a package of bills addressing criminal justice reform, including legislation that would allow low-level marijuana convictions of up to 235,000 residents to be expunged. If the Senate ultimately approves those bills, it’s likely they’ll become law: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) has previously expressed support for clearing marijuana records.
56 percent of Michigan residents voted to legalize marijuana in 2018, making the state the 10th in the nation and the first in the Midwest to permit the sale of marijuana for adult use.
With broad marijuana sales having begun in Michigan—and Illinois’ market coming online next month—it’s possible other Midwestern states may join them.
According to polling firm Data for Progress, a majority of voters in every state in the nation support legalization. This includes 70 percent of voters in Minnesota, 69 percent of voters in Wisconsin, and 68 percent of voters in Iowa.
Of those states, only Minnesota has approved decriminalization and access to marijuana for medicinal purposes. In Wisconsin and Iowa, the substance remains illegal in all forms.
Efforts to approve marijuana for adult use are ongoing in Minnesota, which could happen as soon as 2020, and Wisconsin, where legalization efforts face longer odds in the Republican-controlled legislature. Meanwhile, in Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has said the state will not legalize recreational marijuana while she’s in charge.
If Republicans continue to block legalization efforts, they could be doing so at their own peril. A recent Pew survey found that not only do 78 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents believe marijuana should be legal, but 55 percent of Republicans and those who lean Republican also favor legalization.
In fact, legalization has roughly two-thirds support among every racial, gender, and educational group in the U.S., and a majority of every generation believes marijuana should be accessible, with the exception of the Silent Generation (those born between 1928-1945).
Attitudes toward marijuana have changed so much in recent years that even federal lawmakers are taking real steps to reform the nation’s marijuana laws. The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation in November that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and re-examine marijuana convictions. The bill is now awaiting a vote from the full House of Representatives.
Until such reform officially becomes law, however, cannabis regulation will primarily be left up to the states. While advocates in other Midwestern states fight to end prohibition, Michigan is expected to reap huge financial benefits from the cannabis industry.
By fiscal year 2021, sales are expected to bring in nearly $1 billion per year into the state’s coffers. By 2023, that number could rise to as much as $1.5 billion.