Pubdate: Sun, 11 Oct 2015
Source: Blade, The (Toledo, OH)
Copyright: 2015 The Blade


Legalizing Marijuana in Ohio Shouldn't Require Giving Constitutional 
Cover to a Self-Selected Cartel of Growers

Ohio voters deserve the opportunity to choose whether they want to 
legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use. But if they 
decide they do, they should not be forced in the process to make a 
small group of rich Ohioans enormously richer. That is the fatal flaw 
of Issue 3 on this fall's statewide ballot, and why the proposal 
deserves a NO vote.

A related ballot proposal, Issue 2, would prevent the proponents of 
ballot initiatives from writing into the Ohio Constitution language 
that would give them a highly profitable economic monopoly or cartel. 
On balance, Issue 2 merits a YES vote.

Responsible Ohio, the group that is spending $40 million to promote 
Issue 3, makes a credible case in principle for marijuana 
legalization. Its leaders estimate that voter approval of their 
proposal would increase state and local tax revenue by as much as 
$550 million a year, including another $17.6 million in Lucas County 
and $7.1 million for Toledo. At the same time, they say, the state 
could save the $120 million it spends each year to enforce its often 
obsolete laws prohibiting marijuana.

Legalization, advocates say, would create more than 10,000 permanent, 
good-paying jobs in Ohio. It would largely remove organized crime 
from the equation, they claim, protecting public health by subjecting 
legal marijuana to rigorous quality testing and restricting 
possession for personal use to adults.

Making marijuana legal for medical purposes, proponents argue, would 
enable Ohio doctors to prescribe the drug through a network of 
nonprofit dispensaries that would be created across the state. That 
would expand options for treating adults and children for such 
debilitating diseases as cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, 
and sickle cell anemia.

Legalization also would reduce unjust disparities in law enforcement, 
supporters assert. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio reports 
that black Ohioans are four times as likely as whites to be arrested 
on marijuana charges, although both groups use the drug at roughly 
the same rate.

Such arguments deserve consideration. But they are finally overcome 
by the self-dealing Issue 3 proponents seek to engage in to corner a 
constitutionally protected, $1 billion a year marijuana market.

The ballot proposal would limit to 10, at least initially, the number 
of wholesale marijuana growing sites across the state, including one 
in North Toledo. It would effectively write into the constitution the 
identities of the people and groups authorized to run these sites - 
most of whom are major investors in the pro-Issue 3 campaign.

The ballot proposal dictates specific tax rates for wholesale and 
retail sales of marijuana, along with plans for distributing that 
revenue; these mandates could not be easily changed once they became 
part of the constitution. It would require the growers to sell their 
product to a network of more than 1,100 state-licensed retail outlets.

All of this gets things backward. Only after Ohioans resolve the 
threshold issue of marijuana legalization should the state create 
regulatory and taxation mechanisms, which would give all potential 
entrepreneurs a fair opportunity to compete. These structures should 
not be rigged in advance to favor a fortunate handful of investors, 
and the constitution should not be weighed down with this degree of detail.

If voters reject Issue 3, that outcome should not preclude, or 
prejudge, a future debate on marijuana legalization in Ohio, without 
the baggage that accompanies this year's campaign. For now, though, 
The Blade recommends a NO vote on Issue 3.

Issue 2, the so-called anti-monopoly amendment on next month's 
ballot, is the product of a vote by the General Assembly, not a 
popular initiative. Its advocates say it would prevent anyone from 
using the initiative process - and rewriting the state constitution - 
for personal economic benefit, such as preferential tax treatment or 
exclusive business rights.

The proposal would require anyone who seeks to create a private 
"monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel" to get voter approval twice: once 
for an exemption from the proposal's anti-monopoly provisions, the 
second time for the ballot issue itself.

Lawmakers' motives in placing the proposal on the ballot this year 
are suspect. They did not enact such an amendment in 2009, when 
casino operators assigned themselves similar monopoly benefits in the 
successful ballot initiative they sponsored to bring legalized casino 
gambling to Ohio, including Toledo.

Rather, advocates acknowledge that Issue 2 is intended to prohibit 
Issue 3 from taking effect, even if most voters approve it. The 
latter outcome would likely lead to a messy court challenge if Issue 
2 also passes. Lawmakers also would be more credible on the matter if 
they had not slashed state aid to local governments in recent years; 
making up for that loss is a key argument in favor of Issue 3.

Despite these drawbacks, the core reasoning behind Issue 2 is sound: 
The state constitution should be a statement of basic rights and 
principles, not a tool for rich individuals and special interests to 
give themselves privileges that are unavailable to other Ohioans. 
Vote YES on Issue 2.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom