LANSING (CBS DETROIT/AP) — In an effort to decriminalize marijuana, Michigan regulators announced Thursday a cut in marijuana licensing fees for prospective business owners living in 19 cities whose residents were disproportionately impacted by the drug war.
Under the new “social equity” program, applicants with proposed pot establishments in minority, poor communities like Detroit and Flint and college towns such as East Lansing and Mt. Pleasant will pay up to 60% less in fees. The Marijuana Regulatory Agency determined the communities’ eligibility by analyzing their number of pot-related convictions and the poverty rate.
Regulators are required to “positively impact” communities where marijuana enforcement was intense and encourage their residents to participate in the pot industry, in accordance with a provision of the 2018 voter-passed ballot initiative legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
“I believe that our Social Equity Program will lead the nation in accomplishing the social equity objectives that Michigan voters assigned us last fall when they passed the adult-use marijuana proposal,” Andrew Brisbo, executive director of the Marijuana Regulatory Agency, said in a written statement.
Other eligible cities include Albion, Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Inkster, Kalamazoo, Mt. Morris, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, Niles, Pontiac, River Rouge, Saginaw and Ypsilanti.
Federal data shows similar percentages of white and black people use marijuana. But the arrest rate for blacks is higher, according to reports by the American Civil Liberties Union and others.
Regulators vowed to visit the 19 cities multiple times before the state begins taking applications on Nov. 1. They plan to do educational sessions in the communities, help people complete applications and determine their eligibility.
Fees will be reduced by 25% for those who have lived in one of the disproportionately affected cities for the last five years. They can get an additional 25% cut if they have a marijuana-related conviction, and an extra 10% reductions were registered medical-marijuana caregivers for at least two years between 2008 and 2017.
“It’s critical that we ensure that those who have been unfairly and disproportionately targeted by decades of prohibition are given the opportunity to participate in this new industry, and our hope is that this program will help accomplish that goal,” said Josh Hovey, spokesman for the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association.
Separately this week, Democratic state Sen. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor introduced legislation that would automatically expunge the records of 235,000 people who were convicted of possessing or using marijuana. The bill also would let people convicted of growing or intending to distribute pot apply for an expungement, even if they are a repeat offender.
“Cannabis is now legal in Michigan and petty offenses in the past should be no barrier to getting back to work or school,” Irwin said.
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