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Marijuana Proposal's “Monopoly” Turns Away Likely Supporters

Lewis Wallace

 A referendum on the ballot this November could make Ohio the fifth state to legalize recreational and medical marijuana, following Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska.


But the proposal, put out by the group ResponsibleOhio,  is drawing some unusual opposition—from residents who generally support legalizing marijuana. The reason: Issue 3 specifies just ten locations in the state where growing pot would be allowed, and ten groups of investors already have dibs on those sites. These same investors are sinking $20 million into the campaign. In other words, they’re paying to try to amend the state constitution to grant themselves pot growing rights.


25-year-old Samantha Van Ness, a Yellow Springs resident, says while she’s all for legalizing marijuana, she’s dead set against ResponsibleOhio’s amendment.


“I would rather take the minor misdemeanor fine than let someone have such a massive monopoly in my state,” Van Ness says.

But ResponsibleOhio director Ian James says there’s a reason for this structure.


“There are folks that say we should treat marijuana like lettuce and tomatoes. Well, lettuce and tomatoes don’t impair you. Marijuana does.”


James says limiting the proposal to ten sites makes it easier to regulate and monitor, and a state-run control board will be able to increase that number later on, once the market is established. He also says the big money allows them to run a big campaign.

“We are Ohio, folks,” he says. “We’re not a blue state or a red state. We’re a very purple, middle of the road state. And that requires that you have a middle of the road approach that doesn’t always sit well with the right and it doesn’t always sit well with the left.”


The investors are a notable group: it includes former NBA star Oscar Robertson, NFL player Frostee Rucker, Nick Lachey from the boy band 98 Degrees and two Cincinnati-based relatives of the late President William H. Taft.


Sri Kuvura with Ohioans To End Prohibition says he agrees that it’s time to legalize marijuana, but thinks this is the wrong approach.


“I don’t think auctioning off the Ohio constitution is the only way to do that,” says Kuvura.


So his group—again, would-be supporters—is trying to pass a different amendment next year that would create a free market for growers. Ian James argues a 2016 campaign is even more expensive than this one; Kuvura’s rebuttal is that the LegalizeOhio2016 concept is better, will be more popular, and will take advantage of higher turnout in a presidential year.


Traditional pot opponents likely won’t embrace either move. Republican Secretary of State John Husted included the word “monopoly” in the issue title that’s supposed to go on the ballot this fall.


“You could call it a duopoly, an oligopoly or a cartel, which are other words we could’ve chosen, but we figured that monopoly was the most easily understandable,” says Husted.

Republican legislators also have their own issue on the ballot that would ban constitutional monopolies in the state—a stab at both this proposal and the previous casino legalization amendment that put casino rights into the hands of just two companies in 2009. Worth noting, that agreement was not described to voters as a "monopoly" in the ballot language.


Meanwhile, ResponsibleOhio has gone to the Ohio Supreme Court to contest the wording on Issue 3.


“It’s certainly not a monopoly when thousands of Ohioans will be able to own and operate their own retail stores, their own testing facilities, their own manufacturing facilities,” says Ian James.


He says if it passes, the amendment will create more than 10,000 jobs, and more than $550 million a year in tax revenue for the state. 3,000 of the jobs would be on the ten growing sites, and the campaign has partnered with the labor union UFCW to ensure that all the employers would be union-neutral, thus allowing UFCW to push for unions in all ten sites.


Samantha Van Ness, the young pot supporter who’s against the amendment, says she’d love to see the tax revenue and jobs from a thriving weed business. But, “not at the cost of putting that squarely into a few pockets. That’s just as bad as it is right now, where the money’s already in a few people’s pockets.”


The big money in this campaign is already showing up: the TV ads have started, and they even have a mascot: Buddie, a muscular green guy in a doctor's coat who’s touring college campuses in a bus. Look out for visits to UD and Wright State this fall.