Monopolistic marijuana legalization to appear on Ohio ballot this year, not next year

Yesterday, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted announced that a petition to place the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana had gathered enough signatures to appear on this November’s ballot.

But the proposal is a bit more complicated than that, which has something to do with why it’s appearing on the ballot this year, as opposed to next year.

As Buzzfeed has previously documented, the proposal put together by a group called ResponsibleOhio is designed with the group’s financiers in mind. While it would take the state’s hands off of marijuana use, it would heavily regulate production:

The proposed constitutional amendment would restrict all commercial growth and extraction of weed to 10 specific farms — farms that are owned and operated by the investors bankrolling the effort to pass the initiative. That means the entire legal marijuana industry in Ohio would be controlled by a group of wealthy businesspeople, or what those opposed to the initiative are calling a monopoly, an oligopoly, or a cartel. The rest of the state would be able to apply for one of the 1,150 licenses for marijuana retail stores and testing labs, but all of the shops would need to buy their pot from a group that currently confers over conference call once a week.

As State Auditor Dave Yost told Buzzfeed, “It’s like if Thomas Jefferson and George Washington wrote into the Constitution that they were the only ones allowed to grow cotton.”

The proposal was at one point amended to allow citizens to grow up to four plants for personal use with a $50 license, but even still, selling weed grown from that plant could still face a felony charge.

Marijuana, via Brett Levin / Flickr

Marijuana, via Brett Levin / Flickr

That isn’t legalization; that’s monopolization. To that effect, the Ohio legislature has passed a resolution putting a parallel referendum on the ballot that would ban any “constitutional amendment that would grant a monopoly, oligopoly or cartel.” If both the marijuana legalization and the monopoly ban pass, it would likely set up a court case, which could lead to the legalization language being changed.

The checkered nature of the proposal has also divided marijuana activists over whether to support it. The president of the Ohio chapter of NORML was recently voted out over his support of the initiative. While many marijuana activists feel more or less obligated to support the legislation because it means people not going to jail for smoking or possessing marijuana, others are willing to wait for a better referendum in order to make that happen.

To that effect, a competing organization, Ohioans to End Prohibition, is circulating a petition to put a referendum modeled after Colorado’s legalization language on the ballot in November 2016, to coincide with the presidential election.

The target date for the referenda tells you all you need to know. Marijuana legalization has the best chance for passage in a presidential election year, when Democrats who are more likely to favor legalization are also more likely to vote. That is, unless you’re a well-funded business interest that isn’t at all concerned with the pros of legalization in and of itself, so long as you stand to make a ton of money.

As Ian James, a political strategist and partner in the ResponsibleOhio campaign, told Buzzfeed, “We are going to transform this industry from tie-dye to suit and tie.”

Dude, don’t.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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18 Responses to “Monopolistic marijuana legalization to appear on Ohio ballot this year, not next year”

  1. rmthunter says:

    Now that’s chutzpah.

  2. Indigo says:

    I’ve said all along that a major reason legalization has been stalled for so long is because it proved more profitable for our courageous gestapo and thoughtful legislators to pocket under the table considerations than to legalize the obvious.

  3. Indigo says:

    So many were.

  4. Indigo says:

    I wish I could. Maybe it’ll pass here in Flaw’d eventually.

  5. BeccaM says:

    Now we know why BigPharma has been lobbying for decades against the end of MJ prohibition, up to and including panic-mongering.

    They looooove their hyper-addictive opioids, because it’s a guaranteed captive customer base and they have the sole legal licenses to make and sell them..

  6. Doug105 says:


  7. Doug105 says:


  8. nicho says:

    In states with medical marijuana, deaths from painkillers has dropped by 25%.

    Put that in your bong and smoke it.

  9. nicho says:

    We have a beautiful whiskey still in our family — all copper, very nicely made. It belonged to my grandmother who used it during Prohibition to make hooch for the family and certain of her friends. Whenever my late father would get on his high horse about all these kids and their marijuana, I would remind him that his mother was a bootlegger.

  10. nicho says:

    What’s the difference between that and corporate profits? I’ve always said that marijuana would become legal in a heartbeat as soon as corporations could find a way to corner the market. If they could patent it, they would.

  11. 2karmanot says:

    Could see this coming a mile away and wouldn’t be at all surprised if laundered cartel money were involved.

  12. BeccaM says:

    In a way, I’m not surprised. A similar circumstance came toward the end of alcohol Prohibition, when then as now, the writing was on the wall with the popular movement to repeal the 18th Amendment.

    Many people aren’t aware of this, but it actually remains illegal under federal law to distill alcohol spirits — moonshining in the common parlance — because major corporations lobbied for and won special licensing regimes just for them. Licensing that makes it expensive and impractical for individuals to brew their own liquor.

    Oh, there are carve-outs for wines, ciders, and beers. But unlike those, where there are lots of ‘home brew’ shops around, you won’t find home distillery equipment stores. Folks who are familiar with the TV show M.A.S.H. — remember the little gin distillery Hawkeye and Trapper had in their tent? Had that rig actually worked on the southern California set where they filmed the show, it would have been a violation of federal law.

    So anyway, yes, those with money to lobby governments are doing now what their predecessors did generations ago: Carving out monopolies for themselves as the prohibition regime falls apart, and folks realize that MJ isn’t even half as destructive as alcohol.

  13. Indigo says:

    The pro-group isn’t looking. The anti-group will conjure most anything to stop it.

  14. Indigo says:


  15. nicho says:

    Really? No one saw this coming?

  16. ihazconservative says:

    Agreed, but this is better than keeping it illegal.

  17. AFreedomFighter88 says:

    Cannabis legalization needs to happen as soon as possible! But not if it gives monopolies to a selected few to grow and sell this most efficacious herb.

    Responsible Ohio’s monopolistic approach is unAmericanot. If found on the ballot I would not vote for such a measure but rather wait for a legalization bill that allows anyone 21 years or older to grow cannabis for personal use. And further one that would allow the free marketplace to determine how many commercial cannabis farms are viable.

    We don’t limit the number of tobacco farmers. We don’t limit the number of vineyards and wine makers. We don’t limit the number of breweries, brewpubs or distilleries. We tax, regulate and allow the free market to define the number of businesses. Cannabis is clearly safer than the legal alternatives alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical drugs which together kill over 650,000 US citizens annually. Why should cannabis be treated differently than the more dangerous legal alternatives?
    Legalize, don’t monopolize.

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