Why Antiprohibitionists Are Ambivalent About Ohio's Marijuana Legalization Initiative

Concerns about timing and crony capitalism divide reformers.


Responsible Ohio

Next week Ohio could join four other states in legalizing marijuana. In my latest Forbes column, I explain why many opponents of pot prohibition are less than thrilled about that prospect:

Next Tuesday voters in Ohio will decide whether to legalize marijuana. If Issue 3 passes and if another constitutional amendment aimed at overriding it does not, Ohio will be the first state to leap from complete pot prohibition to legalization for both medical and recreational use. It will also be the most populous state and the first state east of the Great Plains to legalize marijuana. A legalization victory in Ohio, a bellwether in presidential elections, could have a big impact on politicians' willingness to deviate from prohibitionist orthodoxy and on voters' willingness to support next year's crop of marijuana initiatives in other states.

Despite its potential significance, Issue 3 does not merit a mention in a message about marijuana legalization that I received yesterday from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). In the fundraising letter, DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann recalls last year's successful initiatives in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., and he looks forward to next year's contests, when "more people than ever before will have the opportunity to vote on marijuana legalization." But he says nothing about next week's election. There is no discussion of Issue 3 on DPA's website either, although a few posts mention Ohio as one of the states where marijuana might be legalized.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), another leading reform group, has a paragraph about Issue 3 on its website but is not calling attention to the initiative as the vote nears. Nor is its description an endorsement. "We encourage residents to carefully consider the measure and be sure to vote this November!" it says. 

DPA and MPP, which had prominent roles in legalization campaigns last year and will again next year, are not involved in the Ohio initiative, so maybe it's not surprising that they are not promoting it. But that lack of involvement reflects strategic and philosophical differences within the drug policy reform movement that have made many opponents of pot prohibition ambivalent about Issue 3. It's an ambivalence I share. Although I'd like to see Issue 3 pass, I'm not exactly rooting for it.

Read the whole thing.

NEXT: Wrecking Ball

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  1. You only take money away from drug warrior task forces if you can then hand it to favored businesses. That’s the rule.

    1. I can never tell if these people (and I use the word loosely) are brilliant or brain dead.

    2. Ohio did the exact same thing with Gambling.

  2. Sure, the framing of Issue 3 sucks. The Ohio Marijuana Monopoly will be able to set wholesale prices at will without concern about legitimate competition. Prices will continue to be disconnected from the costs of cultivation, which have historically been very low relative to retail price. Presumably the Monopoly’s pricing will set such that wholesale price plus 15% mj tax plus retail gross margin plus 5% sales tax is less than black market price plus the expected value of the cost of a consumer getting caught using alternative sources of supply. This would allow extraordinarily large profits for marijuana cultivation in Ohio, and would create a new aberration in the war on drugs: the state-sponsored drug kingpin. Will rent-seeking cronies in Ohio accomplish what Pablo Escobar could not in Colombia? Will the Feds allow this perverse arrangement to stand?

    However, if we’re really interested in harm reduction, it is better than the status quo. Its authorization of a monopoly in the cultivation of marijuana is similar to the alcohol distribution monopoly that several states have.

    Personally, I’d vote for both issues.

  3. Ohio guy here – I’ve been waffling on whether I support it myself. I’m leaning toward no. The crony capitalism they’ve glued to it is just too much.

    Unfortunately what’s probably going to happen is it fails, but the panicked countermeasure to it, Issue 2, passes, requiring all future ballot initiatives to be vetted by State department puppets to make sure they don’t benefit any special interests before putting it on the ticket. Because apparently voters want protection from their own inability to evaluate whether the things they’re voting for are good.

  4. I just noticed something in the details of Q2 that turn me decisively against it:

    the power of the initiative shall not be used to pass an amendment to this constitution that would grant or create a monopoly or a special interest, privilege, benefit, right, or license of an economic nature to any person, partnership, association, corporation, organization, or other nonpublic entity, or any combination thereof, however organized, that is not available to other similarly situated persons or entities at the time the amendment is scheduled to become effective.

    That says that a voter initiative to amend the constitution to increase freedom by allowing the licensing of certain persons who cannot get permission to do the activity otherwise is disallowed, while one requiring licensing of something the person could get permission for otherwise would be disallowed. The bit about “not available to other similarly situated persons of entities at the time” seems to make it work only against freedom, not for it. In other words, it’d allow voter initiatives to amend the constitution to restrict licensing for already licensed activities, but not to allow restrictive licensing for otherwise forbidden activities. At least that’s how I read it now.

  5. Here’s why I might just support the initiative, if I lived there.

    Once you have any legal way to acquire funpot, having pot is no longer a per se offense. That means all kinds of searches and arrests for possession go out the window, even if the pot isn’t from a licensed dealer. No more dogs issuing search warrants, no more “I smelled pot” as a pretext for searches, etc.

    That’s a big step forward.

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