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Ohio Cannabis Legalization Initiative – A Cautionary Tale for California
by via Lanny Swerdlow, RN
Monday Oct 5th, 2015 10:48 AM
Receiving scant attention from marijuana legalization advocates and just about zero attention in the national media, voters in Ohio will be deciding on a very controversial marijuana legalization initiative this November. It is a cautionary tale that the backers of California’s multiple marijuana legalization initiatives should be paying close attention to.
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Issue 3 submitted by ResponsibleOhio would amend the constitution legalizing both the medical and personal use of marijuana for persons 21 years and older. Personal users may possess up to one ounce and may cultivate up to four plants. Most importantly local bans are not permitted.

A five percent tax will be imposed on retail sales and a 15 percent tax imposed on licensed “Marijuana Growth, Cultivation and Extraction” (MGCE) facilities. It is these MGCEs that are the main cause of consternation over the initiative by marijuana advocates and the state legislature albeit with different motives.

The amendment is worded so as to specifically “Endow exclusive rights for commercial marijuana growth, cultivation, and extraction to self-designated landowners who own 10 predetermined parcels of land in Butler, Clermont, Franklin, Hamilton, Licking, Lorain, Lucas, Delaware, Stark, and Summit counties. One additional location may be allowed for in four years.”

Is this a monopoly? Even the initiative title on the ballot calls it for what it is by saying Issue 3 “ Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medical use.” Backers of Issue 3 are not happy with that on the ballot, but if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck – well you get the picture.

How did it come that 10 landowners got exclusive rights to cultivate in the initiative? According to Ballotopedia.org, “Ian James, the head of the ResponsibleOhio campaign in support of the amendment, required each investor to give $2 million to the campaign to get Issue 3 on the ballot. He also hired real estate agents to find 10 properties capable of industrial indoor marijuana production.”

Might as well be shocked that the sun came up in the east as to feign consternation that money buys whatever it wants in today’s American elections. It’s just unsettling and disappointing that marijuana legalization has to wallow in that same political putrefaction pit.

Who are these people? Turns out they are an eclectic collection of rich entrepreneurial, entertainment and sports celebrities:

Former 98 Degrees singer Nick Lachey
Former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Frostee Rucker
Dayton pain specialist Suresh Gupta
WEBN radio host Frank Wood
Barbara Gould, a philanthropist based in Indian Hill, Ohio
University of Cincinnati basketball star Oscar Robertson
Paul Heldman, former general counsel of The Kroger Co.
Woody Taft, a descendant of President William Howard Taft

As bizarre and corrupt as it might seem, buying your monopoly is par for the course in Ohio as in 2009 a constitutional amendment allowing gambling was extensively underwritten by Penn National Gaming, Inc who now operates casinos in Dayton and Toledo.

It is not really such a novelty in California either where a number of local initiatives to allow for the operation of dispensaries contained specific language that would strongly favor the issuance of licenses to the initiatives financial backers.

It is this sweetheart deal that his driven a wedge into Ohio’s marijuana legalization advocates.

Although they usually don’t agree on much of anything, the Libertarian and Green Parties have both come out against Issue 3 with the Green Party calling it an “economic monopoly” and the Libertarians branding it as “another drug cartel.”

A group calling itself Citizens Against ResponsibleOhio, has a motto proclaiming "100% Pro-Cannabis Legalization, 100% Against the RO Monopoly.”

Joining the anti-issue 3 marijuana legalization advocates are the usual motley crew of opponents - cops, cop genuflecting politicians, Chambers of Commerce and other business mouthpieces for alcohol and pharmaceutical corporations, government funded anti-drug and children organizations plus religious assemblages aghast at yet another onslaught against their rapidly diminishing traditional family values.

Complicating the Issue 3 election, is that the Ohio Legislature horrified that marijuana might be approved by the voters, placed Issue 2 on the ballot which ostensibly would invalidate the marijuana legalization initiative. Issue 2 is a constitutional amendment that prohibits monopolies, oligopolies, and cartels, such as the marijuana monopoly envisioned in Issue 3, from being written into the Ohio Constitution.

In addition Issue 2 has a paragraph nullifying any initiative about a Schedule 1 substance, which marijuana is. If both pass, Issue 2 backers say their amendment would take effect first. Issue 3 backers strongly disagree. The Ohio Constitution says the issue that receives the most votes becomes law which means if both win, it is going to the Ohio Supreme Court for the final decision. This is most definitely a full employment program for a significant number of Ohio lawyers.

Even with all this confusion and a strange bedfellow coalition of anti-marijuana and pro-marijuana legalization forces united against Issue 3, an August 2015 Quinnipiac University poll found 52% of Ohio voters in favor of marijuana legalization. Whether that will hold up come the opposition onslaught leading up to the November 8 election should strike fear into the hearts and minds of Issue 2 proponents.

As principled as the marijuana legalization advocates are in their opposition, the failure of the initiative will be hailed by anti-marijuana legalization forces that they have begun to turn the tide of public opinion against marijuana legalization. The media will join in their chorus reporting on the “major setback” suffered by marijuana legalization advocates. Although the failure of Issue 3 would not necessarily be a death blow to any of the legalization initiatives in November 2016, it will be a new and potent quiver in the arsenal of our opponents.

What is happening in Ohio should be a wake-up call to all those involved in drafting initiatives for California’s Nov. 2106 ballot. Not only don’t we want marijuana advocates split on whether to support the initiative, we also do not want the California legislature getting involved.

After almost 20 years of doing essentially nothing, the Legislature decided that it was time to reign in California’s wild-west medical marijuana distribution system and devised a workable but unwieldy, unfair and expensive licensing and regulation program. If the legislature could get its act together for medical marijuana regulation, it is not unreasonable to fear that they may very well jump into the fray in the same way that the Ohio Legislature did if they don’t like the marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot.

This is what happens when money becomes the reason to legalize marijuana and not a humane, compassionate, rational and realistic approach that would have marijuana safely, reliably, locally and affordably available to all who benefit from its use whether that benefit be for medical, social or recreational uses.
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