Ohio residents will be asked Tuesday whether they want to legalize marijuana for recreational use, but not every cannabis advocate in the state is happy about that.
That’s because Ohio’s marijuana legalization would create a virtual cannabis monopoly OK’d by the state, but restricted to a select few companies who stand to make millions.
That’s including former 98 Degrees boy band member Nick Lachey, who invested in a marijuana farm with designer Nanette Lepore, NBA all-star Oscar Robertson, and Arizona Cardinal defensive end Frostee Rucker.
Those four will join nine other groups to form Ohio’s proposed cannabis oligopoly. Only those 10 companies would be legally able to produce and sell marijuana to the state’s 1,100 state-sponsored dispensaries and their thousands of customers. One estimate suggests the 10 farms could generate $1 billion in profit every year.
The bill to legalize the Ohio marijuana oligopoly is being bankrolled by a few wealthy investors who have spent almost $25 million to see it becomes law, and that has some marijuana advocates crying foul. For comparison, Colorado spent $3 million to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012.
Meanwhile, their opponents are some strange bedfellows; marijuana advocates have been joined by the anti-drug crowd in an effort to defeat the bill.
Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies spokesman Curt Steiner told Cleveland.com Issue 3 was in trouble with the voters.
Issue 3 is first and foremost about putting a few wealthy investors into the constitution and that’s why so many people are voting against it.
Meanwhile, supporters of the bill argue it will be easier for the state to regulate the marijuana economy if there are only a small number of businesses involved. A field with thousands of companies would be harder to monitor than one with only 10.
Public support for the proposition seems evenly split, with many marijuana advocates siding against the bill. It’s also generated a number of media articles with journalists and bloggers alike filling the web with opinions.
A recent statewide survey by the University of Akron shows voters evenly divided with 46 percent of the state supporting the measure and 46 percent opposing it while 8 percent remain undecided.
Along with the 10 state approved marijuana farms, adults 21 and over would be permitted to grow up to four marijuana plants for personal use after paying a $50 fee.
If the bill becomes law, it would make Ohio the first state to legalize recreational marijuana without first legalizing medical cannabis.
There is also a competing measure on the ballot, Issue 2, which would prohibit the creation of state-sponsored monopolies. Of state residents, 40 percent favor the bill, 27 percent oppose it, and 32 percent are undecided. If both bills pass voter approval, there is sure to be a protracted legal battle.
Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, while 23 other states have eased restrictions on medical cannabis. The marijuana industry is now valued at some $3 billion nationwide.
It’s those billions that will have every eye turned to Ohio to see if the latest pay-to-play politics becomes a reality.
Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana and former Obama adviser, told Politico he’s worried about Ohio’s proposed crony capitalism.
The values of Woodstock have been eclipsed by the values of Wall Street. This is the big industry nightmare that we’ve been worried about, and now it’s becoming a reality in Ohio. For anyone who thinks legalization is about pot anymore, they need to look at Ohio and see it’s not about pot, it’s about money.
[Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images]