Students, local residents respond to Ford School medical marijuana report

Sunday, September 16, 2018 - 4:26pm

In a survey of over 1,800 local governments in Michigan, the Ford School of Public Policy's spring 2018 Michigan Public Policy survey showed most prohibit medical marijuana and nearly half report that medical marijuana created issues in their community. This survey gauged where the state's municipal governments stand on the issue of medical marijuana.

As of Aug. 31, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Sharon Township are the only Washtenaw County towns represented in the 8 percent of governments surveyed that allow medical marijuana businesses. The survey reports 75 percent of Michigan’s local governments are to prohibit medical marijuana facilities, while 16 percent have not finalized any legislation. 

Of the local officials polled, 42 percent reported experiencing problems with medical marijuana use in their community and 21 percent reported witnessing benefits related to medical marijuana use. Though the majority of Michigan governments don’t permit medical marijuana facilities in their jurisdictions, many Washtenaw County residents, such as Ypsilanti local Michael Moriarty, see public health benefits associated with local dispensaries.

“I think there’s a number of conditions that medicinal marijuana is beneficial for in ways that maybe traditional pharmaceuticals are not,” Moriarty said. “I know, for example, a handful of people with migraines that it’s beneficial for, cancer patients who lose their appetites, that kind of thing.”

According to the Harvard Medical School's Harvard Health Blog, about 85 percent of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana. LSA senior Johnny Cole said he thinks dispensaries should open where they can do the most good for the communities they are serving.

“I feel like if it’s been proven that it can help with certain conditions, then I think that dispensaries should be in places where people with those conditions are most common,” Cole said.

In addition to pain relief and other medical purposes, some residents, such as Moriarty, see the potential tax revenue and job creation medical marijuana businesses could generate. Michigan legalized medical marijuana in 2008, and according to Forbes magazine, the state has reported over $600 million in marijuana sales revenue to date. Medical marijuana sales are taxed at 6 percent in Michigan.

“In the business sense, I mean it’s tax revenue,” Moriarty said. “Usually they’re small businesses that are locally owned. I don’t really see a negative impact on communities coming from them.”

However, legalizing medical marijuana facilities can cause controversy, which LSA junior Kyla Truax experienced in her hometown.

“I actually live in a town up north (Michigan), and they were thinking of putting in a plant right where I live,” Truax said. "A lot of people opposed it, so it ended up getting shut down and moved to a different city … I know a lot of people that were in support, thought it was a great idea to bring in jobs.”

The Public Policy School survey also included questions about recreational marijuana. Though only 21 percent of local government officials support the legalization of recreational marijuana, 61 percent of Michigan residents support it. Engineering junior Margaret Kohler understands the rationale for the legalization of recreational marijuana because she foresees people without legitimate medical marijuana cards gaining access to the drug anyway.

“I think you’d also expect an increase in fake medical marijuana cards so that people could get it, and it’s almost a better argument just to legalize recreational use,” Kohler said.

Moriarty said he supports the total legalization of marijuana.

“On top of medicinal, I would support full legalization of marijuana, and to that end, it also decreases the criminal element, decreases having to put people in prison over marijuana offenses,” Moriarty said. “I don’t really see a downside under any circumstance.”

According to the Public Policy School survey, low support of recreational marijuana legalization among officials is true across political affiliation and age.