Ohio Grapples With Specter of Marijuana Monopoly
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Ohio Grapples With Specter of Marijuana Monopoly
Posted by CN Staff on November 03, 2015 at 15:38:22 PT
By Mitch Smith and Sheryl Gay Stolberg
Source: New York Times
Columbus, Ohio -- As a member of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, a collector of antique marijuana apothecary jars, the founder of an industrial hemp business and “a pot smoker consistently for 47 years,” Don Wirtshafter, an Ohio lawyer, has fought for decades to make marijuana legal, calling it “my life’s work.”But when Ohio voters go to the polls Tuesday to consider a constitutional amendment to allow marijuana for both medical and personal use, Mr. Wirtshafter will vote against it.
Issue 3, as the proposed amendment is known, is bankrolled by wealthy investors spending nearly $25 million to put it on the ballot and sell it to voters. If it passes, they will have exclusive rights to growing commercial marijuana in Ohio. The proposal has a strange bedfellows coalition of opponents: law enforcement officers worried about crime, doctors worried about children’s health, state lawmakers and others who warn that it would enshrine a monopoly in the Ohio Constitution.The result has been one of the nation’s oddest legalization campaigns. It pits a new generation of corporate investors against grass-roots advocates like Mr. Wirtshafter, who deplores “opportunists seeking monopolistic gains” and laments that America would have been much better off “if they would have just let the hippies have their weed.”A recent poll by the University of Akron shows voters evenly split, but if the proposal passes, Ohio will be the first state to approve marijuana for personal use without first legalizing medical marijuana. That would put Ohio, a swing state, at the forefront of the national movement to overhaul marijuana laws — just in time for the 2016 presidential campaign. Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, a Republican candidate for president, opposes Issue 3.“If Ohio wins, it will be a significant step forward for the broader movement — nothing will excite attention like that,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which has helped lead the national drive for legalization. But his group is remaining neutral rather than endorsing Issue 3, he said, “because of the problematic oligopoly provision.”To complicate matters, the Ohio General Assembly has put a competing initiative, Issue 2, on the ballot; known as the antimonopoly amendment, it would block Issue 3 by prohibiting the granting of special rights through the State Constitution. There is certain to be a protracted legal battle if both measures pass.The story of how Issue 3 got onto the ballot begins here in Columbus, the capital, with Ian James, a political consultant whose company, the Strategy Network, specializes in gathering signatures for ballot initiatives. In 2009, his firm helped legalize casino gambling in Ohio through a measure that amended the State Constitution and specified where casinos could be located.Mr. James said he had “taken that premise and applied it to marijuana.” In early 2014, he said, he began meeting with lawyers and a potential investor, James Gould, a Cincinnati sports agent, to talk about a “tightly regulated system” to make marijuana available in Ohio. An organization called the Ohio Rights Group, then represented by Mr. Wirtshafter, was already gathering signatures for an initiative to make medical marijuana legal.But Mr. James had a more ambitious plan.With help from Mr. Gould, he found 10 investment groups willing to put up a minimum of $2 million each to finance a campaign to pass an amendment that would legalize marijuana for medical use and personal use in small amounts; set up a commission to regulate it; and designate 10 parcels of land — each owned or optioned by funders of the initiative — where marijuana could be legally grown and cultivated for commercial use.Adults 21 and older would also be allowed to grow small amounts of marijuana — up to four flowering plants — for themselves. The state commission would license retailers, who would be required to win elections in local precincts.The backers call themselves ResponsibleOhio. Among the investors: the former professional basketball player Oscar Robertson, the fashion designer Nanette Lepore, Mr. Gould and two great-great-grand-nephews of President William Howard Taft. Each investment group has committed as much as $40 million to build facilities if Issue 3 passes.Mr. James, whose detractors note that his firm is earning more than $5 million to run ResponsibleOhio, makes no bones about what critics call “the corporatization” of the marijuana business. He said the sale of marijuana would, beginning in 2020, generate $554 million a year in tax revenue for Ohio; 85 percent would go toward safety services and infrastructure repair.“We have clearly taken this from the tie-dye to the suit-and-tie approach, there is no question about that,” Mr. James said. “Right, wrong or indifferent, this is the way legalization is moving in this country now.”National advocates are split: The Marijuana Policy Project, like the Drug Policy Alliance, is neutral on Issue 3, while the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or Norml, gave it an uneasy endorsement. Some legalization proponents say Mr. James has created a new model.“If he is successful with this, a bunch of very rich people will be interested in hiring him to try it in other places,” said Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who has advised ResponsibleOhio.Mr. James says he has no plans for other states, though at least five — including California and Nevada — are expected to have ballot initiatives in 2016.Outraged lawmakers in Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature, unwilling to cede control over drug policy, responded with Issue 2, which passed the House with bipartisan backing and the Senate along party lines. State Representative Michael F. Curtin, a Democrat and former editor of The Columbus Dispatch, helped draft the measure, and is a driving force behind Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies, the opponents’ coalition.He calls Issue 3 “a prostitution of the initiative process.”ResponsibleOhio is making its case to voters on the airwaves (Mr. James said his group would spend as much as $9 million on radio and television ads); with celebrity endorsements (Montel Williams, the talk show host who touts medicinal marijuana as treatment for his multiple sclerosis, was here last week); and with paid canvassers who, Mr. James said, will have knocked on one million doors by Election Day.But perhaps the group’s most contentious marketing effort has been Buddie, an anthropomorphic marijuana bud who looks a bit like a spear of asparagus wearing green cowboy boots and a blue cape, and who has been turning up on college campuses around the state. Critics liken him to Joe Camel, the cartoon character accused of marketing Camel cigarettes to children.On the campus of the University of Cincinnati on Thursday, Buddie posed for photos and found no shortage of fans among students; most eagerly accepted free T-shirts (with messages like “O-High-O”). Many who stopped were passionate about legalization. Others said it mattered little to them. One, Lee Idoine, told campaign workers who accompanied Buddie that he “worried about the big businesses getting an edge on the market right away.”Mr. Wirtshafter, who practices law in Athens, Ohio, but resigned as the lawyer for the Ohio Rights Group after it endorsed Issue 3, said Buddie proved “how little the organizers of Issue 3 knew about cannabis, its politics and its users.” Mr. Wirtshafter is now active with a new group, Legalize Ohio 2016, which plans its own ballot initiative next year.On Saturday, he planned to attend a Halloween celebration with a mascot of his own: Monopoly Man. Correction: November 1, 2015 An earlier version of a caption with a photo with this article misspelled the given name of a canvasser for ResponsibleOhio. She is Jan Lefebre, not Jen.Mitch Smith reported from Columbus, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Washington.A version of this article appears in print on November 2, 2015, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Ohio Marijuana Vote Raises Fears of a Monopoly Source: New York Times (NY)Author: Mitch Smith and Sheryl Gay StolbergPublished: November 2, 2015Copyright: 2015 The New York Times CompanyContact: letters nytimes.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives
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Comment #15 posted by Oleg the Tumor on November 06, 2015 at 09:54:36 PT
"Wait 'till next year!" - Cleveland's refrain
Personally, this won't be over until I can stand next to a field of Hemp during a spring rain and smell the good Earth bringing forth what we need in this life.That is if I live long enough.Remember, it was President Geo. Washington who requested farmers "to put in an acre of hemp each . . . for the Navy", a proud tradition that was carried forward for only 150 years or so.Until 1937. As if something suddenly changed in the botanical world, transforming hemp into this terrible - OIL SUBSTITUTE thing. Can't have it. Mr. Rockefeller says "No", because its money out of his (and his investors) pocket. Period. End of Discussion.Let us remember what happened to Washington's opponent during the American Revolution - King George with an exponent on his ass, the Third I think.He ended up being carted off to the Royal Nut House in His Majesty's Strait Jacket, raving.In the end, we all get what we deserve.Now the big money is playing tug-of-war with who? Other Big Money! 
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Comment #14 posted by Hope on November 04, 2015 at 23:03:52 PT
It was not right from the start.
This was all always just about the money. Not freedom and liberty from persecution. No caring about anything but dollars in the right pockets. It would have been good to stop all arrests and raids. Legitimate business would have been good. Next time, cooler heads, not smitten with delusions of some sort of freaky grandeur and super privilege for some, or blinded, like the bunch that put this together this time, by dollar signs, will do it right. Sooner, rather than later, I hope.Older, and tired of the struggle, no doubt... but we're not over that hill, yet, dear FoM. We're trying to do something good. Something right. Setbacks? We know about that. Set back forever? No way.FoM, you weren't quitting, anyway, if this had been won. There are still plenty of our fellow Americans in States even crueler than Ohio. You surely wouldn't forget us.
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Comment #13 posted by Sam Adams on November 04, 2015 at 16:15:04 PT
it's tough to see it lose by so much, but I think everyone knows it's not because of cannabis, it's the wording of the the Lewis family…..weren't they actually planning to do a referendum in OH this year until these other guys stepped in? I remember the Lewis family sent out an RFP at one point (request for proposal), looking for groups to fund for an initiative in OH. I wouldn't be surprised to see another one within 2 years in Ohio. This defeat may help out the national movement more than we know!  We may be moving toward a "consensus" referendum model that will be repeated over & over.  Whichever ones do best in 2016 will likely be repeated. I see the silver lining here - this lopsided defeat may ensure than monopoly-like provisions are avoided at all costs by investors in the future.
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Comment #12 posted by FoM on November 04, 2015 at 14:45:57 PT
I will get over this. I am just old and tired and was looking forward to seeing change in my active lifetime.
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Comment #11 posted by Sam Adams on November 04, 2015 at 14:42:28 PT
the wait won't be long
This isn't the first time anyone's tried to reform MJ laws in Ohio - many people have been working on it for decades. This is the first time anyone got enough money raised for a ballot question.I'm hoping this sends a clear message to other investors - put a good law on the ballot or you'll waste your money in defeat.People vote against bad laws. This isn't the first time this has happenedÉOregon, one of the most pot-friendly states, rejected a medical MJ referendum a few years ago because it wasn't a good law.With the Lewis family (Progressive) based in Ohio I would think another legalization vote will be coming within a few years. Within the next 6-7 years I think every referendum state in the country will see legalization referendums.
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Comment #10 posted by FoM on November 04, 2015 at 05:05:33 PT
Thank You
Paint with Light, Thank you! I posted the HP article. Hope and MikeEEEEE it is sad. I voted for it because of how the Republicans are celebrating the rejection of marijuana in Ohio like I knew they would. All those signatures they had to get and the Legislature didn't have to get any to oppose it with Issue 2. I didn't like the monopoly but it is all anyone has ever tried to do for Ohio in all these years.
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Comment #9 posted by MikeEEEEE on November 04, 2015 at 04:10:56 PT
Most people are stupid in this country, some states more than others.
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Comment #8 posted by Paint with light on November 03, 2015 at 20:42:28 PT
This just posted may be a temporary setback for a bigger step forward.I like this quote,"This debate has shown that there is a strong base of support for legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana. Now the foundation has been laid for a potential 2016 effort that would put forward a more common-sense initiative and have a major impact on the presidential conversation in the process."Legal like it should be.
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Comment #7 posted by Hope on November 03, 2015 at 19:54:01 PT
Oh no.
I'm so sorry, FoM.
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Comment #6 posted by FoM on November 03, 2015 at 18:32:03 PT
Soon Time To Call It a Day
It scares me to think how badly this is losing. If it at least was close it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe the Feds will change the law before Obama leaves office and that would solve a lot of problems! It worries me to see so many right wingers voting in an off election years. I can't imagine any of the republican candidates winning next year but it could happen.
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on November 03, 2015 at 18:08:09 PT
Doesn't Look Good
Way more against then for it. I don't know what votes are coming in first though.
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Comment #4 posted by FoM on November 03, 2015 at 18:01:30 PT
You're welcome!
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on November 03, 2015 at 18:00:59 PT
Results Should Show Up Here After 9 PM
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Comment #2 posted by The GCW on November 03, 2015 at 17:43:46 PT
Thanks for update
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on November 03, 2015 at 16:34:16 PT
Judge Orders Extended Voting Hours 
Judge Orders Extended Voting Hours in Hamilton CountyTUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2015 07:24 PMA Hamilton County Common Pleas court judge has ruled polling places must remain open there until 9 p.m. The extra 90 minues was ordered by Judge Robert Ruehlman after a quick hearing. The delay will slow down the tally for statewide Issues 1 (redistricting) Issue 2 (anti-monopoly) and Issue 3 (marijuana legalization). ResponsibleOhio attorneys filed a motion in court late today seeking to keep the polls open in Hamilton County until 9 p.m. — an hour and a half after they are supposed to close — because of problems with new electronic poll books.
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