Marijuana

Why Antiprohibitionists Are Ambivalent About Ohio's Marijuana Legalization Initiative

Concerns about timing and crony capitalism divide reformers.

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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.

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