Three weeks from today Ohio voters will caste their ballots and decide if ResponsibleOhio's marijuana legalization initiative will become law or not. Ohio Issue 3 would legalize the possession of marijuana, personal cultivation of marijuana, and for some, the ability to cultivate marijuana for profit. The initiative has caused a lot of controversy because of that last provision. Many people oppose a provision of the initiative that grants just ten cultivation-for-profit locations.
Many people see this as there only being ten entities that can grow marijuana in Ohio for profit if the initiative passes, which isn't entirely true. Yes, the licensees could decide to not allow anyone else to grow at their locations, keeping all of the profits for themselves. However, they also can lease out cultivation space to other people who can then grow for profit. So is it an oligarchy? It could be, but not necessarily.
The ResponsibleOhio initiative has been hard for some activists and organizations to swallow, with some people endorsing the initiative, some staying neutral, and some adamantly opposing it in public every chance they get. Hardworking activist Russ Belville is about the only longtime activist that I've seen lend his full support to the initiative, with others that endorsed it taking more of a 'plug your nose and vote yes' approach. Russ has fought very hard to educate people about what ResponsibleOhio's initiative does and doesn't do. He has put up with a virtually never ending supply of personal attacks, yet has remained quite polite about it, and hasn't let those attacks steer him from educating the masses. Regardless of how you feel about ResponsibleOhio, we should still all agree that Russ' work is commendable.
Russ has made some very great points about the initiative, probably my favorite of which is highlighting the hypocrisy of people and organizations supporting even more restrictive models for medical marijuana in many states while at the same time very much opposing the Ohio recreational initiative. Per an article Russ wrote for Marijuana Politics:
Their opposition to a few rich people in control of growing shouldn't be confused with the medical marijuana laws eagerly supported by these same drug reform orgs. Laws like Connecticut's that only allow a maximum of ten growers and require a $25,000 non-refundable application fee and $2,000,000 in escrow. Or New Jersey's that allows only six growers. Or New York's that allows only five growers. Or New Hampshire's that allows only four growers. Or Minnesota's that allows only two growers. For some reason, a handful of wealthy people getting rich selling marijuana (or non-smokable marijuana products in Minnesota and New York) to patients isn't reason enough for the marijuana law reform organizations to avoid promoting or to outright oppose those laws.
Ohio's grow oligopoly isn't even as restrictive as those five medical marijuana states. While those states limit medical marijuana cultivation specifically to the holders of 10, 6, 5, 4, or 2 licenses, Ohio is limiting cultivation to ten already-owned plots of land. There is no limitation on how many licensed growers may be cultivating those 13,000,000 square feet. Already the owner of the Licking County property has agreed to lease 15 acres of it for a medical cannabis research facility. The owners of four properties have assured the Ohio Rights Group that they will be leasing to multiple artisanal small grows.
That flexibility is confirmed by the amendment itself, which states, "[no laws] shall prohibit the creation of transferrable and recordable legal descriptions or separate tax parcel numbers for any of the [grow sites]." It also allows the grow sites to "expand its structures and related operations to adjacent real property". Best of all, unlike the licenses issued in other legal states, which can be subject to the whims of state and local lawmakers and regulators, these plots of land are constitutionally protected for the right to cultivate commercial cannabis. Furthermore, after four years, if these 13,000,000 square feet aren't producing enough quality cannabis to satisfy demand, the state may open up more land for commercial growing.
I will say that when the states Russ mentions legalized medical marijuana, everyone of them was hailed as an amazing victory for the movement. So why not Ohio? as tends to be the case with reform organizations and many activists, those efforts were celebrated and praised because they were the ideas of those organizations and/or activists I think. At least that's what I've seen happen. As far as I know ResponsibleOhio hasn't received any help from national organizations, nor have they asked for it from what I know. Had they tried to engage the national organizations more, maybe things would be different, but I guess we will never know.
I have always said that the states mentioned in Russ' article have lame medical marijuana laws, and that they should be improved dramatically. With that being said, those efforts were a step in the right direction, so I was OK when they passed. That's basically how I feel about ResponsibleOhio. If people vote for it, I'm fine with that. If they oppose it, I'm fine with that. But I'm only fine with either scenario if the people are casting an educated vote. Know the facts. Don't vote based off of knee-jerk reactions or based only off of what you heard third hand. There is plenty of information out there that is just a couple of clicks away, so there is no excuse for anyone supporting or opposing the initiative without knowing exactly why.
For me personally, the 'ten cultivation site' rule doesn't bother me nearly as much as the campaign's strategy. Every Ohio citizen can grow their own under the initiative, so I have always felt that if people truly don't like the initiative and it passes, they can grow their own and encourage others to do so and not buy marijuana from the ten entities. That's not an option in Washington, where people are forced to buy overpriced marijuana from licensed stores, or go to the black market. The same is true in many medical marijuana states, all of which were hailed by national organizations as good reforms.
I don't like 'Buddie' the marijuana mascot. I don't like that ResponsibleOhio hasn't tried to work with national reform organizations or national activists. I definitely don't like that ResponsibleOhio has tried to bash Colorado's legalization model in an attempt to make their model look better. It's OK to tout how the provisions of one state's legalization model are better than others, which I do with Oregon's model quite often. But it's another thing to directly attack another state, basically using the playbook of long time marijuana opponents. Campaigns shouldn't need to use gimmicks, or try to attack other models. Marijuana prohibition is a horrible thing, and states should pursue more sensible laws. That's what campaigns should be focused on. There is enough infighting in the movement as it is, we definitely don't need more. ResponsibleOhio is making it harder for states that want to pursue reform in the future, as marijuana opponents will now likely point to things like 'Buddie' the marijuana mascot as reasons to not support reform.
I have maintained since the beginning of the Ohio campaign that this is an issue for Ohio voters to decide. I can type til my fingers fall off, and talk until I'm blue in the face as to why people should vote for the initiative, or why people shouldn't vote for the initiative. Ohio voters have to decide if this is the best that they can do for legalization, which is significant because there hasn't been any other effort that has came even close to making the ballot in Ohio. Also Ohio voters have to ask themselves, 'is waiting another year worth it?' How many more people will get arrested in that year? How many patients will be forced to go without lifesaving medicine in that year? What if 2016 doesn't workout if voters wait, because as I've said, Ohio hasn't been high on any national org's radar prior to this election, and sadly, I don't see that changing if/when ResponsibleOhio loses on November 3rd (despite all of their rhetoric that Ohio can do better).
What do Ohio readers think? I've never been to Ohio, and I truly don't know what the chances of future efforts from within the state are. That's why I defer to Ohio residents. Do you plan on voting for Issue 3? Why or why not? And for that matter, do you plan on voting for Issue 2, which would eliminate some of the provisions of the legalization initiative if both passed, why or why not?