[Michigan’s Historic Marijuana Laws]

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elsa olofsson dN4JJ30Ty3g unsplash

Michigan has a long and complicated history with marijuana. Up until recently, the state had some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country —like a 20-year sentence to prison without parole for selling marijuana, or 20 years in prison for two counts of possession. 

However, in 2008, Michigan voters approved a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana. This article will discuss the history of marijuana laws in Michigan, and what to expect from the new legalization law.

1. Before the 20th Century

Marijuana has been used for centuries for medicinal, industrial, and household purposes. Native Americans used it for medicinal and spiritual practices long before the first European settlers arrived, and even after they arrived, nearly every farm in the country grew hemp which was used to make rope, clothing, paper, and more. 

Even early doctors would make cannabis tinctures to treat various ailments from headaches to inflamed and sore muscles. 

2. The Early 1900’s

While the Mexican-American war came to a close over two decades prior, Americans’ attitudes towards the Mexican people were still one of hostility and contempt by the time the Mexican Revolution began in 1910. 

Nobody knew it then, but this attitude would affect America’s perception of cannabis, as many refugees of the revolution brought with them marijuana —a commonly used recreational substance in Mexican culture. 

This hatred led to propaganda, labeling the use of cannabis as dangerous and immoral, ultimately leading to marijuana’s nationwide criminalization in 1937. 

3. The 1950’s and 60’s

Marijuana laws in Michigan were historically some of the harshest in the entire country. To the Michigan state government, cannabis was just as dangerous to public health as heroin. It was classified as a narcotic, so anyone arrested for marijuana was treated as equally dangerous to society. This didn’t last for too long though. 

In 1969 (the year of Woodstock), a man by the name of John Sinclair was arrested for possession of marijuana. He had two joints, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. As you can probably imagine, this didn’t sit well with many of the cannabis enthusiasts who lived for the messages of peace, love, and community, and protests began. 

The movement grew into a nationwide ordeal, and culminated in the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, with John Lennon and Yoko Ono closing the show as the final act. 

It was after this rally that the Michigan courts decided that marijuana should not be classified as a narcotic, and interestingly enough, for the three weeks following that court decision, marijuana was actually legal in the state of Michigan! 

4. Medical Marijuana Is Legalized

In 2008, the Michigan voters decided that it was time to move forward, and medical marijuana was made legal statewide. This allowed patients of various illnesses to  seek out marijuana for treatment, as well as opening up a whole new industry in the state. 

To top things off, patients were allowed to grow their own medicine —equaling up to 12 plants per one person. The legislation actually provided that a caregiver can grow marijuana for up to five patients, on top of themselves if they were also a patient. So in the state of Michigan, a single person in the right circumstances could grow 72 plants at once! 

5. A Stormy Series of Court Cases

From the Ogden Memo, to the Cole Memo, to Casias v Wal-Mart where a Federal Judge ruled against a cancer patient who was using marijuana to treat pain, the marijuana laws in Michigan were moving forward, bringing more clarity with each new case. 

There was a period between 2011 and 2016 where law enforcement raided countless medical marijuana dispensaries, as many police officers didn’t understand the law, or agree with the use of medical marijuana. 

However, the governor later signed legislation in 2016 which expanded and clarified the framework for medical marijuana throughout the state. 

6. Recreational Marijuana Is Now Legal

The most recent development in Michigan’s cannabis history is the legalization of  marijuana for recreational use. In 2018, voters approved a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana. This means that adults 21 and over can now purchase and consume cannabis without a medical license. 

That doesn’t mean it’s not beneficial to have a medical marijuana license though. In fact, many strains are reserved for medical use only. If you’d like to learn more about how you can acquire your medical marijuana license in Michigan, visit this page on Marijuana Doctors.


From complete criminalization, to a brief moment of legality, to medical marijuana, and now recreational marijuana, the cannabis laws in Michigan have come a long way. The state has been on the forefront of change when it comes to this plant, and there’s no telling what the future will hold. For now, adults can enjoy their newly found freedom to purchase and consume cannabis without fear of repercussion from the law. 



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