Ohio's Marijuana Legalization Initiative Qualifies for the 2015 Ballot As Language of a 2016 Massachusetts Initiative Is Finalized

The Massachusetts measure would keep taxes relatively low and allow cannabis cafés.


Jacob Sullum

Yesterday Ohio's secretary of state announced that Responsible Ohio, the organization backing a proposed Marijuana Legalization Amendment, had collected enough valid signatures to qualify the measure for this November's ballot. That means Ohio will be the first state to consider legalizing marijuana since voters in Alaska and Oregon decided to do so last year. Legalization initiatives are expected to be on the ballot in several other states next year.

Responsible Ohio has attracted more than the usual criticism of marijuana legalization because its initiative would create a cannabis cultivation cartel consisting of the amendment's main financial backers. In February, responding to criticism of its locked-down approach to marijuana growing, Responsible Ohio decided to include "regulated and limited home growing" in its initiative. The revised version of the measure allows adults 21 or older to grow up to four flowering plants and possess up to eight ounces at home for personal consumption, provided they obtain state-issued licenses. That change moved the Ohio initiative closer to the laws in the jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana so far: Except for Washington state, they all allow home cultivation. Also like the earlier state initiatives, Ohio's allows adults to possess an ounce or less of marijuana in public. It prohibits consumption in "any public place," which it does not define.

Responsible Ohio spokeswoman Lydia Bolander says the initiative's limit on commercial producers is designed to facilitate regulation and ensure that "those individuals are ready and willing to start production as soon as possible." She adds that there will be many other opportunities for people to make money in the newly legal cannabis industry. The amendment, Bolander says, allows "one retail store per 10,000 residents statewide, which would give us about 1,100 retail stores that could be licensed throughout the state." (By comparison, Washington, with a population about 40 percent smaller than Ohio's, initially planned to license just 334 recreational retailers.) Bolander adds that newcomers are welcome in edible manufacturing, pot testing, and "peripheral businesses in the supply chain."

Local governments also stand to benefit financially from marijuana legalization, since they will get 85 percent of the revenue from the taxes specified in the amendment: 15 percent of gross revenue received by growers and marijuana product manufacturers, plus 5 percent of gross revenue received by retailers. By contrast, the states that have legalized marijuana so far are taxing it based either on price or weight. 

If voters approve the constitutional amendment, which in Ohio requires only a simple majority, it will be the first time a state without a medical marijuana law legalizes the drug for general use. Under current law, possessing even the tiniest amount of marijuana, no matter the reason, is a misdemeanor; as little as 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) can lead to a jail sentence; and twice that amount is a felony. It's not clear whether Ohioans are ready to leap from that system to one in which not only consumption but production and distribution (provided they are authorized) do not trigger any punishment at all.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in March found that 52 percent of Ohio voters thought adults should be allowed to "possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use," which is not quite the same as legalizing commercial production and distribution. "Our internal polling has definitely shown that there's very strong support for full legalization," Bolander says, "and we're confident that that number's only going to continue to grow between now and November."

Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which is backing legalization measures in five states next year, thinks it's risky to put a marijuana initiative on the ballot in a year when people are not electing a president, since turnout is lower then, especially among the younger voters who are most likely to favor legalization. He worries that a defeat in Ohio could be portrayed as a reversal of the movement's momentum. "That failure will be the only failure in the country," he says, "and then the media will feed on that: 'Oh, my God, legalization is backsliding.'"

Bolander counters that an off-year election in Ohio has advantages. "Ohio in a presidential year, the political noise is just cacophonous, and you really cannot have a conversation about another issue that isn't influenced by political dynamics that are outside of your control," she says. "Rather than trying to have that conversation in a year when we're also talking about a presidential race, a Senate race, and numerous other congressional and local races at the same time, this is going to give us a unique platform to be able to have a bigger conversation about why this is such an urgent necessity for Ohio."

Last week the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts, one of the MPP-backed efforts, submitted the language for its initiative. Like the Ohio amendment and the successful initiatives in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, it would allow adults 21 or older to possess an ounce or less of marijuana in public. They would be allowed to have up to 10 ounces at home, plus any amount they produce there. Home cultivation would be limited to six plants per adult and 12 plants per household. Commercial growers and sellers would be regulated by a Cannabis Control Commission.

Taxes would be relatively low, presumably to avoid underpricing by the black market, which continues to be a problem in Colorado and Washington. The initiative imposes a special 3.75-percent tax on retail marijuana sales, on top of the standard sales tax. Local governments would be allowed to impose an additional sales tax of up to 2 percent. Medical marijuana would be exempt from those taxes.

In a departure from previous initiatives, the Massachusetts measure, known as the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, would allow consumption of cannabis products on the premises of businesses that sell them, subject to regulation by the Cannabis Control Commission and approval by local voters. The initiative says "no person shall consume marijuana in a public place or smoke marijuana where smoking tobacco is prohibited" but adds that the rule "shall not apply to a person who consumes marijuana or marijuana products in a designated area of a marijuana establishment located in a city or town that has voted to allow consumption on the premises where sold." Those provisions, which allow for something like Amsterdam-style cannabis cafés, are aimed at resolving the sticky question of where, aside from private residences, people can consume marijuana once they are allowed to buy it.

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  1. But will the moral authority of John Kasich let it stand?

    1. As long as they don’t misrepresent themselves like the Coen brothers. I mean, how was that Fargo a comedy???

      1. Bill Macy was in it.

      2. You’re darn tootin that wasn’t a comedy.

      3. John Kasich is singlehandedly responsible for the demise of Blockbuster Video.

  2. he measure allows adults 21 or older to grow up to four flowering plants and possess up to eight ounces at home for personal consumption, provided they obtain state-issued licenses.

    So they will still be arresting people? Good. That will get some police backing. And strengthen the cartel.

    I look forward to State issued licenses to grow tomatoes. All these unregulated markets are a danger.

    1. One step at a time. Tomatoes aren’t associated with violent drug gangs or – worse – jazz musicians in the same way as MJ is.

    2. I propose a slightly simper referendum: “Marijuana is legal.” There, how’s that?

  3. the initiative’s limit on commercial producers is designed to facilitate regulation

    Somehow, we got to a place in this country where a business’s value is measured solely by the taxes it pays (seriously, look around at “pro-business” pitches and they generally include as one of their main virtues paying a shitload of taxes) and how easy it makes life for petty tyrants.

  4. Having recently visited Seattle, I will say that despite the level of taxation, is was a strangely joyful experience to visiting a recreational marijuana store. Brownies, cookies, hard candy, sublingual sprays, fancy pre-rolled mega joints… capitalist innovation at it’s finest. And everyone working there was really friendly and helpful.

    Cannabis City. I highly recommend it, despite the Steve Smith statute.

    1. It’s amazingly depressing how people who have no clue about the realities of pot get to dictate the rules for how others consume it.

      As a rough analog, I had my first cigar a few weeks back. I stayed away because I had preconceived notions of how it would be based on my hatred of cigarettes, but it was completely different.

      Point being that most non-pot-smoker experience of pot smoking is that weird kid from college who was constantly burning incense and had a Bob Marley poster in his room. If they realized that pot could be really different, they wouldn’t have the same visceral opposition.

      1. Section 1.01: YOU MUST SUBMIT TO STEVE SMITH
        Section 1.02: STEVE SMITH HUNGRY
        Section 1.04: *smudged with blood to the point of being unreadable*

        1. STEVE SMITH’s less rapey brother.

          1. At least his sperm count is low. Only like 76 quintillion or so.

  5. “Responsible Ohio has attracted more than the usual criticism of marijuana legalization because its initiative would create a cannabis cultivation cartel consisting of the amendment’s main financial backers.”

    This is the way things get done.

    If we wanted to really make bones about this, let’s face it, the legal growers around the country are increasingly being unionized and supported by the Teamsters Union.

    The workers in cannabis shops and clinics are increasingly being unionized and supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW).

    These are the interests at play, and seeing them line up behind an issue we care about is just the price of getting what we want. Charlie Sheen would call that #winning.

    1. Its sad, but its probably reality nonetheless:

      In a crony capitalist system controlled by corruptocrats and kleptocrats, you’re not going to get anything unless you sign up some goons and let them wet their beak.

      1. I’d liken it to how perestroika put state assets into the hands of oligarchs and cronies and mafia like elements in the KGB. I’d liken it to how the Chinese put state assets into the hands of people who were well connected, CCP party members, and commanders in the People’s Liberation Army. Expecting an arbitrary government that favors the interests of party members to become righteous and fair in the privatization process is simply too much to hope for in the real world. Be happy they’re moving towards capitalism!

        It’s the same thing with marijuana legalization. The state governments are going to hand out the goodies to their cronies and allies–especially when we’re talking about states east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason Dixon line. And it’s hard to hand the goodies out to your friends in those Democrat political machines when the politicians don’t know who their friends are in the industry. But once unions like the Teamsters and the UFCW are on board with legalization? It’s just a matter of time.

        The Teamsters used to represent and still represent a lot of police departments, too. If Washington state doesn’t allow home cultivation, it’s probably not completely unrelated to the police departments in Washington state being well represented by the Teamsters union–which also increasingly represents legal growers of marijuana.…..ent-league

        1. I.e., it’s hard to get marijuana legalized over the objections of the police unions, but if the police union also represents the growers, who’s going to stop them? And, oh yeah, and while they’re at it, the Teamsters union is going to make sure people in Washington can’t grow their own and compete with Teamster marijuana growers.

          That’s not the way it should be, but that’s the way things get done.

          It’s progress, but it’s two steps forwards and one step back.

          1. let’s do the time warp again

            1. That’s a jump to the left–and then a step to the ri-ay-ay-ay-ight.

      2. It might well up killing it though. Powers that be Kasich/DeWine, major medua, cops all still against it. A lot of others who would vote for across the board legalisation won’t vote for this because of the monopoly. I believe there is another group in Ohio working on something for next year or year after that doesn’t enshrine the momopoly in the State Constitution like this one does. I’m not confident this version will pass.

        1. Ohio monopolized the Casino cartel in it’s constitution when it passed legal gambling so we’ll see. Seems like there was a lot less opposition to the monopoly aspect of that than this one for some reason.

          1. That election was deeper in the recession and they promised Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. The media ran with that part of it. Most people did not know about the monopoly part until after it passed.

    2. Proving that you’d have to be high to think a union is a good idea.

      1. Well, it’s just that we should expect to see marijuana treated like everything else.

        I can’t put up a building in California without the local government (be it county or city) signs off on both my choice of shrubbery and the color palate I paint my buildings.

        Still, at least I’m not under threat of 40 years in federal prison for putting up buildings over a certain size. And if that’s the way marijuana growing and selling becomes, too? Then that’s a big improvement.

  6. More surprising Christian resurrection: Jesus Christ or Tim Tebow’s career?

    1. You’re separating two things that cannot be separated. homoio?sios

    2. The Jets are looking for a new quarterback…again.

      Some reserve/practice player sucker punched Geno Smith in the locker room and broke his jaw?!


      They’re Tebowing themselves right now.

  7. This legislation features the same flaw as that contained in a previously passed amendment to legalize gambling in OH; the creation of a controlling cartel of financial interests.

    Legalization efforts should not ensconce economic cartels in the state constitution. Legalization of previously prohibited activities should be done without economic favoritism.

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