In a Nutshell:
- Michigan’s adult-use marijuana law allows citizens to have a direct voice in approving or banning these types of facilities in their communities. A similar provision is not included in the state’s medical marijuana law.
- Local government “opt-in” is a prerequisite for medical marijuana facilities in a jurisdiction, but this authority rests solely with local elected officials.
- Citizens living in cities and villages seeking to weigh in on medical marijuana, however, can petition their government to amend the local charter to allow or ban these types of facilities.
Marijuana proposals appeared on the November 2, 2021 election ballot in five Michigan communities. In each case, the citizen-initiated proposal sought to either totally prohibit or limit the number of marijuana establishments in a particular community. While the proposals were borne from local signature gathering efforts, the actual paths taken to the ballot were very different depending on whether the proposal sought to enact a citizen-initiated ordinance or amend the city charter. These key differences, as we explain here, are important for citizens to understand as more and more local communities weigh in, via a public vote, on the issue of marijuana.
Local Voices a Prerequisite to Marijuana Approval
Initiated Law 1 of 2018 (the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act or MRTMA) makes the use of marijuana legal under state and local law for adults 21 and older – this is the “legalization” side of the law. Marijuana continues to be illegal under federal law. Additionally, MRTMA allows for the commercial production, distribution, and sale of marijuana. These provisions of the law set-up new state licensing, regulatory, and taxation systems for the legalization of adult-use marijuana.
But where these various commercial activities are allowed to legally operate in Michigan is subject to local approval today.1 When Michigan voters legalized adult-use marijuana, they also established a process to allow cities, villages, and townships to have a direct say in whether marijuana establishments should be allowed in their respective communities. Today, a municipality must “opt in” to the state licensing system as a prerequisite for recreational marijuana facilities to locate in their jurisdiction. This “opt in” is accomplished when a municipality adopts an ordinance to allow such facilities.
Similarly, before a medical marijuana facility can open its doors in a city, village, or township, that municipality must “opt in”. The Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA) enacted in 2016 prohibits the State of Michigan from issuing a facility license unless a municipality adopts an ordinance allowing such facilities. This is very similar to how the MRTMA “opt in” provision operates today; a local ordinance allowing adult-use marijuana is required before the state will issue a license to a commercial enterprise.
Today, 157 local governments have ordinances approving medical marijuana while 113 governments have ordinances allowing adult-use marijuana. Some communities have approved both adult-use and medical marijuana ordinances, while others have authorized one or the other. The table below provides a breakdown of marijuana ordinances in effect by type of local government.
Local Marijuana Ordinances
Source: Marijuana Regulatory Agency
The Citizens’ Voice in Marijuana Approval
Today, both MRTMA and MMFLA require a local government to “opt in” before commercial marijuana operations can commence. Whether for adult-use or medical, a marijuana ordinance to “opt in” can be approved through the standard legislative process set forth by state statute or local charter. It should be noted that nothing in either marijuana law prevents local elected officials from changing course on marijuana and adopting a new ordinance.
In addition to the standard ordinance approval process, the adult-use marijuana law also authorizes a separate citizen initiative process to gain local approval or, if a community has already approved marijuana, to change course and ban marijuana. Specifically, the law allows citizens, through a signature gathering process, to place an ordinance on the ballot to be voted upon by electors in the jurisdiction.
This “direct democracy” mechanism was included to provide citizens with a way to act when their elected representatives won’t. Under this provision, every Michigan citizen, regardless of the type of local government in which they reside, has the ability to petition their government on adult-use marijuana.
A similar mechanism is not available for medical marijuana. The MMFLA does not provide for a citizen initiative process to initiate an ordinance to either “opt-in” or “opt-out”. As such, the power to authorize medical marijuana facilities rests exclusively with the elected officials of a community. This key difference between the state’s marijuana laws means that Michigan citizens have a direct say on adult-use marijuana in their communities, but not medical marijuana.
There is one caveat. While the MMFLA does not allow citizens to initiate marijuana ordinances, people living in cities and home rule villages can initiate charter amendments to achieve the same policy goal. They can champion proposals to amend their charters to approve or ban medical marijuana in their jurisdiction. Generally, amending a city or village charter in this manner involves developing initiatory petition language, collecting the required number of signatures, and gaining public approval at the ballot box. The Home Rule City Act spells out the specific requirements (e.g., signature threshold, ballot language) for an amendment proposed by initiatory petition.
But, the charter-amendment method for approving or banning medical marijuana is only available to residents of cities and home rule villages operating under a local charter. Townships and general law villages do not draft home rule charters. Instead, these governments’ powers are prescribed in specific state laws. And, without a local charter to amend, residents of townships and general law villages will never face a public vote on medical marijuana.
Local Votes Allowed on Marijuana Proposals
Source: Citizens Research Council
1. It should be noted that the initiated state law is written to allow municipalities to “completely prohibit or limit the number of marihuana establishments within its boundaries.” This means that a city, village, or township must “opt out” in order to prohibit recreational marijuana facilities in its jurisdiction. However, this “opt out” requirement effectively operates as a “opt in” provision today because of the previous actions taken by municipalities. Specifically, in advance of the State of Michigan implementing its recreational marijuana licensing system in November 2019, nearly all Michigan cities, townships, and villages chose to “opt out” and completely prohibit recreational marijuana within their jurisdictions. As a result of those earlier decisions, local governments today must approve or “opt in” to allow marijuana in their jurisdictions.
Permission to reprint this blog post in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the Citizens Research Council of Michigan is properly cited.