Is Ohio Going To Pot? Buckeye State To Vote On Cannabis Legalization

Ohio voters will go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether or not the Buckeye State will become the fifth to legalize recreational cannabis (marijuana), MSNBC is reporting.

Ohio’s Issue 3 would make recreational cannabis legal, just like it now is in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Users 21 and over would be able to legally purchase up to an ounce at retail cannabis shops, and would be able to possess up to four flowering plants, according to Ballotpedia.

But there’s a huge catch: Issue 3 would only allow 10 specific producers to produce the recreational pot sold at the retail level in Ohio. All ten of those aspiring producers — which include NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson and former boy band singer Nick Lachey — paid $2 million for the exclusive right to grow pot in Ohio for retail sale. In other words, as MSNBC analyst Tony Dokoupil explains, Ohio’s cannabis legalization initiative creates a monopoly (technically an oligopoly, but there’s no need to quibble over semantics). The man behind the initiative, according to Politico, is one Ian James, a business-savvy political operative who courted investors in order to get the cannabis legalization initiative on the ballot in the first place. And he freely admits the initiative is about big business — big business, he says, is what it’s going to take to make marijuana legalization a reality in Ohio.

“It’s an incredibly daunting, detail-oriented process, and it requires funding.”

In fact, even some pot legalization advocates are so turned off by Ohio’s granting of a pot monopoly that they’re actually against the measure. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, says that Ohio’s efforts are only about making big businesses rich.

“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. Ohio confirms our worst fears about big business marijuana. It’s all about making a small number of rich people richer, not personal freedom or justice.”

Similarly, Marijuana Policy Project communications director Morgan Fox said that the MPP isn’t taking a side one way or the other with regard to Ohio’s plan.

“We are staying neutral on Ohio. We generally support making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it like alcohol,” he continued, but “Ohioans will have to decide if Issue 3 is the best way for them to do so.”

Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, while admitting that Ohio’s Issue 3 is “problematic,” ultimately comes down on the side of being in favor of the effort.

“There’s something about a constitutionally mandated oligopoly for an agricultural product that just seems un-American. With that said, I must admit that I’m rooting for Issue 3 to win, mostly because a victory on Election Day 2015 would significantly accelerate the momentum toward ending marijuana prohibition nationwide.”

Ohio’s cannabis legalization initiative holds broader significance outside of the Buckeye State. Previous states to legalize pot, particularly Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, have been solidly liberal, Western states. Ohio, by comparison, is a more politically diverse swing state, and it’s solidly in America’s Heartland.

Whether or not Ohio voters will legalize cannabis remains to be seen. As of Monday, the polls were too close to call.

[Image via Shutterstock / a katz]