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Legalizing recreational marijuana divides candidates for Michigan's next governor

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

Candidates for Michigan governor in next month’s primary are sharply divided, along party lines, when it comes to legalizing recreational marijuana.

In November, Michigan voters will not only decide who will be the state’s next governor, but also whether to legalize recreational marijuana.

If the candidates running to be governor are any indication, marijuana legalization may come down to largely party-line vote.

The four Republican candidates for governor oppose legal pot. While the three Democrats and two Libertarian candidates support it.

Six of the candidates for governor sat down with members of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative to discuss a variety of issues, including recreational marijuana.

Lt. Governor Brian Calley summed up the GOP argument.

“Having another mind-altering substance out there, with the endorsement of the government, I think it a bad thing,” says Calley.

State Senator Patrick Colbeck raised the spectre of thousands of Michigan workers failing employer required drug tests. He says there are currently 31,000 open jobs in his state Senate district. 

“That number of open job-openings in my district is going to go up,” says Colbeck. “When that number of job openings goes up, the number of people on government assistance is also going to go up because they can’t find a job because they can’t pass a drug test.”

St. Sen. Patrick Colbeck, candidate for governor of Michigan, on legalizing recreational marijuana

Dr. Jim Hines, a Saginaw gynecologist, is a supporter of medical marijuana, but not recreational marijuana. He says there are several potential issues, including lung cancer threats.

Dr. Jim Hines, candidate for governor of Michigan, on legalizing recreational marijuana

Attorney General Bill Schuette did not participate in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative interview process.  A decade ago, Schuette lead the campaign against legalizing medical marijuana in Michigan.  

A Schuette campaign spokesman released a statement saying, “Bill does not personally support legalizing recreational marijuana but as governor he will respect the will of the voters.”

All the Republican candidates, while opposing the legalization ballot question, promise to honor the voters’ wishes if the measure passes in November.

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer expects Michigan voters will approve legalizing recreational marijuana in November, which she says makes the implementation question key.

“So it stays out of the hands of kids. To insure the dollars actually go where they’re supposed to go…into our infrastructure and our schools,” says Whitmer. 

Gretchen Whitmer, candidate for governor of Michigan, on legalizing recreational marijuana

Businessman Shri Thanedar sees a business opportunity for Michigan entrepreneurs

“I would make sure that big corporations from out-of-state do not come and take advantage of this new law,” says Thanedar. 

Shri Thanedar, candidate for governor of Michigan, on legalizing recreational marijuana

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed calls legalization a “civil rights issue.”

“If you are black in this country, you are 3.3 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite no higher likelihood of use,” says El-Sayed. 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, candidate for governor of Michigan, on legalizing recreational marijuana

Both El-Sayed and Thanedar say they would use their power as governor to pardon non-violent drug offenders serving time in Michigan prisons, and expunge their criminal records if Michiganders vote to legalize recreational marijuana.

Libertarian candidates for governor also favor legalization.

Candidate Bill Gelineau says there are several positives that can come from legalization, including reallocating law enforcement resources.

“Redirection of police and judicial resources to serious crime; a reduction in the law enforcement infrastructure,” Gelineau says on his website. “We simply won’t need to pay for as many enforcement tools, from probation to prison.

John Tataris the other Libertarian appearing on the August primary ballot.

He supports decriminalizing recreational marijuana. 

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.