Advocates with Michigan’s Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spent nearly six months knocking on doors across the state with one mission in mind: to garner support for their bid to have recreational cannabis legalization added to the November 2018 ballot.

On Monday, the group provided 360,000 signatures – well above the 252,523 required to put an issue before Michigan voters – to the state’s Board of Canvassers. The signatures were collected within the state-mandated 180-day window, a requirement that kept a different legalization initiative from making it onto the 2016 ballot.

Josh Hovey, the RMLA’s communications director, recalled feeling like a “huge weight had been lifted off everyone’s shoulders” after the group loaded nearly 70 boxes of petitions into the office.

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Josh Hovey is the communications director for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol // Photo Josh Hovey

“It’s nice that this coincided with Thanksgiving because we’re all very thankful that this process is wrapping up,” Hovey told Civilized over the phone on Tuesday afternoon. “We’re all going to take a week or so just to catch our breath and then the planning for the next phase really goes into full force.”

Indeed, the work before the RMLA is really only just beginning – assuming the group wants a real shot at becoming the first Midwestern state to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

For his part, Hovey has every intention of making that dream – one that he feels could have far-reaching implications – a reality.

“Being the first state in the Midwest to legalize for all adults 21 and older would be just massive for the marijuana movement,” says Hovey.

“We’re getting to the point where there’s bound to be that one straw that breaks the camel’s back and forces the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I substances ... We just have to overcome some of the fearmongering that’s bound to happen across Michigan [in coming months].”

Michigan’s general election will be held Nov. 6, 2018. That means that once the state’s Board of Canvassers verifies that all the submitted signatures are valid – a process that’s expected to take roughly two weeks – the RMLA will have just under a year to spread the word about their initiative.

If voters approve of the RMLA’s proposal, Michigan residents 21 and older would be able to legally carry up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and store up to 10 ounces at home. Public consumption would remain illegal. The ballot measure would also license businesses that cultivate, process, test, transport, and sell cannabis, as well as implement strict testing regulations.

Hovey says the RMLA will spend the next 11-or-so months amassing as much support for the initiative as possible from various community leaders and stakeholders.

“First and foremost, we’ll be collecting endorsements from organizations and individuals from all over the state. We’ll be talking to people from the business community, from the healthcare community, from law enforcement – anyone who we think would be a credible voice on this issue,” Hovey says, adding that, “beyond that, it’s really about fundraising.”

“Michigan is one of the 10 most populous states in the country, and communicating [our initiative] to voters is going to require millions of dollars in terms of media advertising, mail pieces, things like that.”

Hovey feels confident that once the RMLA is able to get the facts in front of the voters, “the issue will become pretty clear, and the logical choice will become ‘yes.’”

Research more-or-less supports Hovey’s optimism, with the latest poll suggesting that roughly 57 percent of Michigan voters support legalizing cannabis.

“I think the public is on our side. I think they understand that, just like with alcohol, the prohibition of marijuana is a failed experiment,” says Hovey.

“They know taxing it and regulating [cannabis] is a far better solution than criminalizing people for using a product that’s been used safely for thousands of years and continues to be used safely today.”

Hovey certainly isn’t expecting smooth sailing from here on in, however. He believes the initiative is bound to bring lot of attention to the state over the next year – from both camps.

“Given that Michigan is likely to be one of the few states to have legalization on the ballot next year – and that we could be the first state in the Midwest to legalize – we expect there to be quite the national spotlight on the state,” he says. “There’s bound to be groups out there who will try to spread fear and misinformation.”

Needless to say, Hovey and his fellow RMLA advocates are up to the challenge.

“I want us to have a thriving industry where... people realize that, just like with alcohol, cannabis can be enjoyed responsibly, and it can also generate millions of tax revenue for the state of Michigan,” says Hovey. “Our first hurdle has been cleared, but there’s many more to go ... We’re now just hoping to collect as many donations as possible to help us bring legalization to the Midwest.”

Banner image: Josh Hovey of the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol heads a press conference from a podium of boxed petitions // Photo courtesy of Josh Hovey