Advocacy

Ohio Marijuana: Your Attention Please*

Ohio and MarijuanaDark clouds gather over Ohio this spring. Nestled between the foothills of Appalachia and the largest freshwater lakes on God’s green earth, this is hardly a new phenomenon for those of us who call it home. Ohioans are used to a little overcast weather—we often go weeks without seeing the sun. Yet, something about this particular storm brewing overhead seems a bit… ominous. In fact, I would offer that Ohio hasn’t suffered a tempest like this since 2009, when Hurricane Gilbert swept east across the Lake Erie shore through Cleveland, then tore south through Columbus and Cincinnati. When the squalls finally broke that November, Ohio had changed forever. We were assured it would be a new beginning, but it was really just the beginning of the end. Hardly anything has yet been built. The financial relief we had no choice but to accept has been a mere fraction of what was promised. Many Ohioans feel deceived. Most believe the system is broken.

The storm from 2009 is better known around these parts as ‘Issue 3.’ It was a for-profit statewide ballot initiative to amend the Ohio Constitution that granted a handful of rich, powerful, well-connected investors the exclusive right to own and operate casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Toledo. Those investors, naturally, were the very same people who bankrolled the campaign. Through their wealth and influence, they bought themselves their very own piece of the Ohio Constitution and an oligopoly on gambling in Ohio that—for all intents and purposes—serves as a license to print money. They pledged entertainment complexes of such grandeur, pomp, and circumstance that Miami and Las Vegas would be green with envy. They guaranteed tens of thousands of jobs, hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues, and a sustainable boost to tourism. Six years later, the overwhelming majority of that which we were sold yet remains undelivered.

This year’s storm goes by the misnomer ‘ResponsibleOhio.’ It is a for-profit statewide ballot initiative to amend the Ohio Constitution that grants a handful of rich, powerful, well-connected investors the exclusive right to cultivate and harvest marijuana for commercial purposes. Those investors, naturally, are the very same people bankrolling the campaign. Through their wealth and influence, they hope to buy themselves their very own piece of the Ohio Constitution and an oligopoly on growing marijuana that—for all intents and purposes—serves as a license to print money. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. They pledge monolithic marijuana cultivation facilities the likes of which no man has ever dreamed. They guarantee tens of thousands of jobs, hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues, and a safer, healthier Ohio—all engineered by the very same political consultants who hoodwinked Ohio voters into voting for the casino amendment that has never come close to living up to its billing.

Who are these shadowy groups? Why are they so late to the party? Say what you will about Ohio cannabis activists, but they have done an excellent job of changing public opinion in recent years. If anyone with money had gotten behind them and helped them organize at scale, Ohio would have had medical marijuana ages ago. But these investors were nowhere to be found. What changed? Did they all spontaneously have massive strokes of moral conscience? Did they see the success of legalization and medical marijuana in places like Colorado, Oregon, and Michigan and imagine a way to improve the lives of millions of people? Or did they see the success of legalization and medical marijuana in places like Colorado, Oregon, and Michigan and imagine a business plan to make millions of dollars?

The political consultants behind this devious scheme have done little to ingratiate themselves among the Ohio cannabis community. Even those few disenchanted members of the Ohio cannabis community who do support them (and they are few indeed) see right through the charade. Sadly, they seem resigned to the fate that this is the best we can muster. They believe a corporate takeover is inevitable anyway, and thus are willing to sacrifice good law and good policy in order to secure a minor concession. They contend it is a step in the right direction—it’s really one step forward, one giant leap for mankind back. All of a sudden, this isn’t just happening in Ohio. It’s happening in Michigan. It’s happening in California. All of sudden, this isn’t just about cannabis. It’s about total perversion of the ballot initiative process. What was once a tool for hard fought democratically won social progress is reduced to a tool for huge corporations to do big business. Constitutions are bought and sold like corporate assets.

A terrifying storm indeed is brewing over Ohio this spring. Bad law and bad policy are contagious—so if we don’t nip it in the bud here, there is little doubt we will soon see similar weather patterns cropping up elsewhere. Nobody needs a weatherman to know which way that wind blows. Thankfully, Ohio yet stands a chance. OTEP has a plan to beat back this corporate affront to our state constitution—and we have a better plan for controlling cannabis in Ohio. Ohio is suddenly ground zero in the battle for cannabis—and the sanctity of state constitutions. As Ohio goes, so goes the nation. Stand with us, and together we shall triumph.

* This is guest post by Jacob Wagner. Jacob is Vice President of Ohioans to End Prohibition (OTEP) and author of the Cannabis Control Amendment (CCA), an initiative proposed for the Ohio ballot in 2016. More information about OTEP and the CCA can be found at LegalizeOhio2016.org.