International Cannabis Business Conference

Why We Said 'Vote Yes' on Issue 3 in Ohio

Much has been written about the lack of support for the marijuana legalization initiative in Ohio by organizations such as NORML, the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance. As editor of Freedom Leaf, I decided to take a stand in favor of ResponsibleOhio's Issue 3.

In the Editor's Note of Freedom Leaf Issue 10, I write:

"In November, Ohio may become the fifth state to legalize pot, and the first East of the Mississippi. Like many marijuana measures before it, this one is mired in controversy. ResponsibleOhio, the group behind Issue 3, has devised a plan that allows its investors to financially benefit if it passes, creating a legal cartel of 10 producers. This effectively would rule out competition for legal cultivation and manufacturing facilities. However, Issue 3 calls for more than 1,000 stores to be spread out across the state, and these will have open bidding for licenses…

"So then, what's the problem? Well, in America we have a pretense of competition, where everyone has a fair chance to grab the brass ring – especially those with significant amounts of capitol to compete in the marketplace. In Ohio, capitalists are funding Issue 3, and want something back on their investment. What could be more American than that?

'Issue 3 is a no-brainer 'Yes' vote for anyone who wants to liberate the weed. Forget who's going to make the money for a minute, and think about an end to 20,000 arrests a year in the Buckeye State. That's what's most important.'

NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre concurs. He writes in Freedom Leaf:

"Passage of Issue 3 in Ohio will halt some 20,000 arrests annually, and permit adults the option to access marijuana via home cultivation or a commercial regulatory scheme that's preferable to the black market… NORML believes that advocates are in a better position to leverage for further, more consumer-friendly regulations in an environment where the adult use of cannabis is codified under the law, as opposed to an environment where cannabis is illicit and all users of the plant are criminals."

Ethan Nadlemann at his Manhattan office. (Photo by G. Moses)

Here's what DPA executive director Ethan Nadlemann has to say about Issue 3 in the interview I conducted with him in Freedom Leaf:

Where do you stand on Issue 3?

Nadelmann: "My sense is that the Ohio effort is overall a very good thing, except for one very bad thing, which is the oligopoly provision to the state constitution. It just seems a bit over the top, a little too greedy and un-American in some respects. But look at New Jersey and New York, which have only five licensees [each] right now. However, those are not in the state constitution. There are a number of states where the number of licensees has been limited through legislative effort, executive authority or whatever. So in that sense, Ohio doesn’t look bad.

There’s also Issue 2 on the Ohio ballot, which opposes the oligopoly. What happens if both win?

Nadlemann: "There’s a presumption that it will end up being litigated in the Ohio Supreme Court. The ideal outcome for me would be if both Issue 2 and Issue 3 win, and then the Ohio Supreme Court mandates that the legislature come up with a wholesale model that’s different than in Issue 3.

'However, if Issue 3 wins, come 2016, with the candidates going to Ohio – one of the three most important swing states in American presidential politics – it would have enormous benefit for the broader national movement to end marijuana prohibition. The simple fact of waking up the day after Election Day this November to find that Ohio legalized marijuana will catapult the marijuana legalization effort forward.'

Even with that said, you still couldn’t, in good conscience, support it as an organization?

Nadlemann: "The fact that we have not formally endorsed it speaks to our reservations about the model that they’re using. On the other hand, I think a win in Ohio, regardless of what happens on the legislative initiative, would be a very good thing for the national movement to end marijuana prohibition."

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Here are the final graphs of my editorial:

'Some activists in Ohio have taken their eye off the prize and are working against Issue 3. This is a shame. We need to be united in our efforts to roll back prohibition. Lack of unity sabotaged Prop 19 in California in 2010, and almost upended Initiative 502 in Washington State in 2012. Momentum is on our side, but a loss in Ohio would slow that momentum. We need more victories – not defeats due to infighting. People need to set aside their differences and realize that the chance to radically alter a state law doesn't come along that often.'

"As (Freedom Leaf senior editor) Chris Goldstein writes: 'This could show the country that the end to cannabis prohibition is not a piecemeal effort, but a true national movement.' 

"I second that emotion. Now, let's go out and legalize it in Ohio!"

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, editor-in-chief of Freedom Leaf, co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness, and the former editor of High Times.