By Marguerite Arnold
As Ohio gets ready to go to the polls for its off-year election, the issue of marijuana legalization is also in the national spotlight. And it is in this odd, off-year state tangle that the future of legalization might finally come to the forefront of the national debate in a whole new way.
One year before the national presidential election of 2016, Ohio voters will decide whether their state becomes the first to jump the medical marijuana hurdle and move straight into full legalization. The catch of course, is that this initiative, Issue 3, is creating a new model for the marijuana industry that most legalization supporters in the state and beyond oppose, including many in the business community.
“Issue 3 will create an oligopoly of the major financial backers by securing cultivation licenses for them alone,” said Jamie Rosen, CEO of Dr. Dabber, a vaporizer company. “This prevents competition in the cultivation arena. The result is less strain variety, no incentive for competitive pricing, and a small group of growers making certain decisions for an entire state.”
Issue 3 was funded by a small group of wealthy investors under the rubric of ResponsibleOhio, who have funded the campaign so far to the tune of $25 million and can further bring tens of millions of dollars to developing the beginnings of a new state industry. They include former professional basketball player Oscar Robertson, fashion designer Nanette Lepore and two great-great-grand nephews of former President William Howard Taft. If ResponsibleOhio wins and the measure is unopposed, it will control the entire state marijuana market. That said, in what will not be the last attempt to stop this proposal from becoming reality, Issue 2, passed by the state legislature, already attempts to ban the use of a so-called “initiative process” to change the state constitution for personal economic benefit.
No matter the initial outcome of today’s state vote, the situation is likely to continue to bubble in a way that forces all of the national presidential candidates to take a real position on full marijuana legalization. The critical position of Ohio as an early primary state and the fact that so far only Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., of all the major if not viable major candidates for president, has endorsed full recreational marijuana reform makes this a certainty.
“Ohio presents a great opportunity in many ways. If it passes it makes the entire phenomenon more obvious,” said Leslie Bocskor of Electrum Partners. “The single best end result will be the relief on taxpayers and citizens of the state of Ohio when the burden from cannabis incarceration is no longer an issue.”
So there are many who think that Ohio is an important showdown, no matter what happens. The bottom line is that there are now three states—Ohio as well as California and Nevada—in which recreational marijuana is going to be a major topic of discussion during the election season. Ohio and California are also “must-have” states in traditional political conventional numbers tallying. All three states are also known to be critical bellwethers on election night and can swing both ways.
That said, as Rosen commented, “California is the 800 pound gorilla of cannabis states. Governor Brown recently signed the California Medical Marijuana and Safety Act which creates 17 different license types and empowers several agencies within the state to be the governing bodies of the new program. This was done in anticipation of California enacting an amendment to the state constitution next year allowing for recreational cannabis. Nevada is also seeking to amend their constitution to allow for recreational cannabis.”