Michigan lights up

Alpena residents split as recreational pot becomes legal

AP Photo In this April 12, 2018 file photo, nugs of marijuana await packaging at the Hollingsworth Cannabis Company near Shelton, Wash. Michigan clears a threshold Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, as the first state in the Midwest to allow marijuana for more than just medical purposes. In the Nov. 6 election, voters by a wide margin endorsed recreational use by adults who are at least 21.

ALPENA –The use of recreational marijuana in Michigan became legal on Thursday and no doubt many people took a toke without the fear of retribution in celebration.

In Alpena, however, members of the community still seem to be divided over the legal use of the drug, which is still considered a Schedule I narcotic by the federal government.

The legalization of recreational use of the drug was made possible when voters in Michigan voted to pass Proposal 1 during the general election on Nov. 6. Although it passed by a good margin statewide, support for the proposal was small in Northeast Michigan, as there were only a pair of municipalities — the city of Alpena and Onaway — that had more yes votes than no.

Several communities in the region have already voted to forbid the commercial sale of the drug, at least for the time being.

Jeff Shultz said he experimented with the drug in high school and college but quit a long time ago. He said he doesn’t intend to begin using again now that it’s legal, but doesn’t condemn people who want to, as long as they do so responsibly.

“If people want to do it in the privacy of their own home, I don’t see what the big deal is,” Shultz said. “They aren’t going to be able to do it in public, so I don’t see how others will be hurt by it. It is probably less harmful than going to the bar and getting drunk.”

Denise Roughe had an opposite opinion. She believes it will have an impact on public safety and could impact children in a negative way. Roughe admitted, however, she needs to review the new law more closely to learn more about it.

“There is a lot about it that I don’t know, but I don’t see how legalizing a drug that can alter your mind is a good thing,” she said. “You’ll have more people driving after using it and kids will be exposed to it more. I hear there are some edibles that look like candy and I think that is kind of scary. That should not be legal at all.”

Because the law restricts public use of marijuana, it is unlikely people will be smoking it in areas where others can see them. People who get pulled over driving while under the influence of the drug will also face penalties that are similar to whose associated with drinking and driving. And employers can still prohibit their employees from using the drug.

Allen Skaggs said the legalization of pot is long overdue and, although he believes there could be some hiccups in how the new law is rolled out, and how businesses that sell it are regulated, he believes the issues some predict will not come to be.

“There is a lot fear tactics being used and, in the end, I don’t think this is going to be as bad as people are trying to convince us,” he said. “It has been working in other states and the money it will generate will help the state and local communities.”

In addition to the 6-percent sales tax applied to the sale of the drug, there is also a 10-percent tax tacked on. That funding will be used for roads and education initiatives around the state and a portion will also be kept by the state to cover the cost of planning, studies and administrative and licensing services. The balance will be distributed to municipalities that allow marijuana businesses to open.

Until legal commercial pot stores open, the only legal way for a person to access the drug is to grow it, in a secure area at a private residence, or to have it given to them.

The sale of it from one person to another is still illegal, which raises questions on how people will acquire the drug.

Robert Reese said the drug has always been available and suspects that will remain the case until the state begins issuing licenses and dispensaries open.

“People who want to smoke it always find a way to get it,” he said. “That’s not going to change.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpeanews.com.