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The man campaigning to derail marijuana legalization in Michigan makes his case

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By many indications, this could be the year Michigan voters legalize recreational marijuana. 

A ballot effort spearheaded by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, or CRMLA, has the backing of the national organization responsible for a number of successful legalization initiatives throughout the country, and the coalition has shown it's capable of raising plenty of money. Things appear to be running right on schedule; last year, CRMLA easily passed the threshold of petition signatures needed to get the issue before voters. As those signatures are being verified, public perception of marijuana is on an upswing, with support for marijuana legalization creeping up toward the 60 percent mark, according to polls conducted over the past couple of years. 


But as the CRMLA sails toward its goal to end marijuana prohibition, it's being met with some headwinds. Two ballot committees have formed to balk the legalization effort: Healthy and Productive Michigan and the Committee to Keep Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools. The former group registered just days after CRMLA's backers submitted 365,000 petition signatures to the state's Board of Canvassers. 

Though there's little information as yet available on who exactly is behind the anti-pot crusades, marijuana foes traditionally include religious groups, law enforcement, and business entities that don't want to see their profit margins shaved if weed is made readily available. One of the primary opponents of last year's recreational legalization initiative in Arizona, for example, was a pharmaceutical company whose product line includes fentanyl and a form of synthetic marijuana. It was the only state to ever see a legalization effort defeated last year. Nine states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. 

The committees opposing legalization here in Michigan have yet to raise a significant amount of money. The Committee to Keep Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools has received $5,000 from the Michigan Responsibility Council, and Healthy and Productive Michigan has not yet received any donations, according to campaign finance reports reviewed Jan 19. But the latter organization will be one to watch. Its president, Grand Rapids-based political consultant Scott Greenlee, a former aide and campaign worker for anti-pot Attorney General Bill Schuette, has run a number of successful political campaigns throughout the state and has expressed hopes of raising more than $1 million to keep marijuana illegal. 

If the group is successful in meeting that goal, Michiganders can expect to see a significant amount of anti-marijuana messaging in the months to come. In Arizona, where marijuana legalization was narrowly defeated, the opposition mounted a campaign aiming to convince voters that traffic fatalities and teen marijuana use would rise if pot were legal, pointing to Colorado as an example. But in the great tradition of political campaigns, the claims involved a little bit of gymnastics — deft maneuvering intended to dodge the vault of truth. A closer inspection of the claims levied by the anti-weed campaign backed by big pharma showed them to be misleading or outright inaccurate. Multiple studies have shown that teen marijuana use has not increased in Colorado, and there is nothing linking a recent increase in traffic fatalities in the state to marijuana use — one possible explanation is that the state's population has grown. 

So we wondered, what sort of spin can Michigan voters expect? In an effort to dispel and add context to the reefer madness that may be in store over the coming months, we interviewed Greenlee on why he thinks marijuana should remain illegal in the state, and have included any evidence that may run contrary to his claims.


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