FOX 11 Investigates the impact of Michigan marijuana on Wisconsin
UPDATE: An earlier version of this story indicated the grower, who legally produces medical marijuana, had 72 plants. That was incorrect. Seventy-two is the number of medical marijuana plants which would be allowed under Michigan law for someone with a medical marijuana card and a caregivers license to grow medical marijuana for up to five others who are medically approved.
MARINETTE (WLUK) -- While Wisconsin legislators have said no to legalizing marijuana of any kind, medical marijuana is approved when you cross any the Badger State line into Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan. Now Michigan is looking to put recreational marijuana to a vote. But at what cost does all that marijuana impact Wisconsin residents?
With medical marijuana legal next door in Michigan it should come as no surprise that some of that product finds its way illegally into Wisconsin. And if recreational marijuana is approved by voters in Michigan this November, authorities in Wisconsin say the problem will only get worse.
"I think if they legalize it for recreation, we’ll certainly see a lot more folks that’ll be traveling to attain it because of the proximity," said Steve Genisot, mayor of Marinette, which is separated from Menominee, Michigan by the Menominee River.
Genisot and the Marinette City Council made it clear late last year that marijuana is not welcome in their city—even if the state of Wisconsin were to approve it. The city council passed an ordinance prohibiting the cultivation, possession, delivery and dispensaries of marijuana all in an effort, they say, for the safety and welfare of the community.
"With all the known problems with alcohol, prescription drugs, adding one more thing, the police department was very adamant they wanted to do something to prevent one more influence, negative influence, in the community," explained Genisot.
For the past decade, Michigan has allowed marijuana to be grown and sold for medical use. Medical marijuana is projected to be a billion-dollar industry in the state. It is currently bringing in $75 million in new tax revenue for Michigan. Since 2008, it has become a big business.
"My husband and I are firm believers in marijuana and the medicinal purpose it offers," said Shelly Gurney, owner of Grow Master in Menominee about a mile from the Wisconsin border.
While the supplies she offers at her store could be used to grow a wide variety of plants, it’s clear most of her customers are focused on cultivating marijuana.
"If I were to guess I’d say about 20 to 30 percent is maybe just regular farming, vegetables. And maybe 60 to 70 percent is for the marijuana," said Gurney.
Gurney relocated to Michigan just for the medicinal marijuana. She treats her migraines and arthritis with marijuana that she legally grows herself. And she has a license to be a caregiver to five others with a medical marijuana license—meaning she can grow marijuana for them too.
In all Michigan law allows those with a medical marijuana card to grow up to 12 plants. Those with a caregivers license can also grow 12 plants each for up to five other people with a medical marijuana card.
Marinette Police Lt. Scott Ries says that’s a lot of marijuana potentially for six people.
"It doesn’t take long to know you have a lot of marijuana on your hands, when every pound is 454 joints," said Ries.
And according to The Marijuana Grow Bible, familiar to avid growers of marijuana, each plant, with the right light and nutrients, can produce a pound of marijuana a year. That means patients in Michigan allowed 12 plants, could produce 5,448 joints a year, or nearly 15 joints every day.
"The product can’t all be smoked…It’s grown as medical marijuana in the state but then it’s diverted to other avenues because of the profit factors that are there.
Ries says marijuana from Michigan has led to increased traffic stops for driving under the influence, although exact numbers were not available.
"When we look at impaired driving second to alcohol, marijuana is always number one substance found in the blood system," said Ries.
Ries says police are just enforcing the laws. But in a 2016 Marquette University Poll, 59 percent of Wisconsin residents statewide favored regulating marijuana like alcohol.
State Representative Amanda Stuck of Appleton says if Wisconsin were to legalize marijuana there wouldn’t be an issue at the border.
"I think people are just afraid of it, for so long there’s been talk about marijuana being this gateway drug…the only gateway is really hanging out with people who do drugs in the first place," said Stuck.
Stuck and other Democratic supporters of legalizing marijuana plan to re-introduce legislation when back in session next year.
"I think there is movement, unfortunately movements are slow, legislation is often behind the times because it does take so long to get something passed," said Stuck.
Voters in Michigan will go to the polls in November to decide whether recreational marijuana gets approved. The latest poll in Michigan out this year has 61 percent in approval leaving most to agree it’s a done deal.
"When you have a recreational or medical marijuana that’s in Michigan, prices go down because there’s more people that are providing that service, so people will travel to that area to get it at a cheaper price," said Ries.
That has Marinette officials concerned about the blurred line where the state border separates what’s legal from what’s not.