Pubdate: Mon, 02 Nov 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company
Author: Jessica Contrera


Pop Singer and Select Ohioans Will See Green If Initiative Passes

Two things you probably haven't been paying a lot of a attention to lately:

Election Day in Ohio. (It's not 2016 yet.)

Former boy-band star a and reality TV spouse Nick L Lachey. (It's not 
2003 anymore.) m Well, settle in, be because you have some catching 
up to do. On Tuesday, Ohio residents go to the polls to decide 
whether marijuana should be legal. If they vote yes, the Cincinnati 
native and long-ago leading man of "Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica" will 
automatically become one of the top weed kingpins of the Buckeye State.

It is one of the most curious ballot initiatives in the country- a 
synergy of B-list celebrity and entrepreneurial democracy in a 
culturally conservative state that would hardly be expected to lead 
the charge for legal pot.

And yet it has driven a wedge into the usual pro-marijuana coalition, 
in part because of language in the measure that would restrict 
virtually all large-scale marijuana cultivation to 10 designated farms.

The owners of those farms? A random bunch, including Lachey, designer 
Nanette Lepore, NBA legend Oscar Robertson, NFL journeyman Frostee 
Rucker, a pair of President William Howard Taft's 
great-great-grandnephews and twenty-some others - who, not 
coincidentally, are the same folks bankrolling the campaign, and 
stand to become very, very wealthy if the measure passes.

"They are creating a constitutionally mandated oligopoly," argues 
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. But 
the initiative's organizers maintain that the novel arrangement is 
the only way to fund a successful legalization campaign in a 
far-from-liberal state.

Each ownership group was asked to put up an initial $4 million to 
underwrite the ballot campaign; it cost them an estimated $10 million 
more to buy land and get their farms up and running. Lachey's piece 
of the action would be 29 acres just outside of Akron, which he would 
co-own with a couple of financial executives and a car dealership 
owner from Texas. Every one of the 1,100 state-regulated marijuana 
retail shops across Ohio will have no choice but to buy from his or 
one of the other nine farms.

Within four years, according to one study, it is estimated that those 
10 farms would be selling $1.1 billion worth of pot every year.

Lachey declined a request for an interview, but his press 
representative shared this statement:

"Ohio is my home, and as a resident and local business owner I am 
proud to be part of a movement that has the potential to create jobs, 
reinvigorate the local economy and improve the safety of our 
communities. Passage of this proposal will result in much-needed 
economic development opportunities across Ohio, and update the 
state's position on marijuana in a smart and safe way."

Long before Jessica Simpson cemented his turn-of-the-millennium fame, 
Lachey grew up in Cincinnati, a football-loving dude whose parents 
shunted him and his brother Drew into music instead. At Cincinnati's 
School for Creative and Performing Arts, the seeds for their careers 
were planted. They soon formed 98 Degrees, an R&B-tinged pop group 
with two other Ohio guys, and sold millions of CDs in the late '90s - 
yet somehow still ended up an also-ran to Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync 
during the golden era of boy bands.

But Lachey, with his blue eyes and frosted tips, had a second act in 
him. His 2002 marriage to Simpson - herself a bit of a teen diva 
also-ran to Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera - earned them their 
own reality show. On the surprise hit "Newlyweds," he played the 
beleaguered good guy to his wife's high-maintenance ditz, and both 
became tabloid royalty.

His music career never recovered, and the marriage didn't last. But 
somehow the TV thing stuck, with hosting gigs on competition shows 
such as "Clash of the Choirs" and "The Sing-Off " and a reality show 
he produced back at his old school in Ohio.

Even the sports bar he and Drew opened this year in Cincinnati's hip 
Over-the-Rhine neighborhood was eventually revealed as the setting 
for a new A&E reality series, "Lachey's Bar."

Yelp reviewers may disagree on whether the brothers have any talent 
in running a restaurant, but there's no doubt Nick Lachey, 41, knows 
his brand. Transforming a music career that peaked long ago into a 
profitable TV afterlife takes savvy, and Lachey, or whoever is 
advising him, clearly has it.

It was his financial advisers who presented Lachey with the idea of 
getting into the marijuana game. According to ResponsibleOhio 
executive director Ian James, they heard about the opportunity 
through another client, Rucker, a defensive end for the Arizona 
Cardinals who used to play for the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.

Rucker, in turn, was recruited by James Gould, the Cincinnati sports 
agent and private-equity guy who masterminded this one-of-a-kind 
ballot initiative, after previous adventures helping Build-A-Bear go 
public and advising Donald Trump through his ill-fated involvement in 
the short-lived United States Football League.

Gould and James are responsible for transforming Ohio's marijuana 
legalization movement from a grass-roots activists club to a 
"suit-and-tie" operation, funded by bottom-line-minded investors 
alert to the untapped economic potential of a particularly pungent cash crop.

As one investor put it during a video pitch to other contributors 
reported by the Columbus Dispatch, "Let's hop on this tsunami of 
money and ride the top of that wave to some enrichment for us."

Although it is far from unusual for donors to subsidize campaigns 
that they stand to benefit from, it is virtually unheard of for 
funders to write themselves into a state constitution via a ballot initiative.

"What's unique about [this measure] is just how very explicit they 
are," said Brittany Clingen, senior elections analyst for the 
nonprofit research group Ballotpedia. "This is a new level of 
pay-to-play democracy. The concept behind it is not unusual, but the 
implementation is unique."

An aversion to monopolies has helped power opposition to the 
initiative, with Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies garnering 
support from the state Chamber of Commerce, Hospital Association, 
School Boards Association, Farmers Union and Fraternal Order of Police.

"People are asking the question, ' How can somebody put themselves in 
the constitution exclusively to make money?' That's exactly what the 
proponents are trying to do," said Curt Steiner, the group's campaign director.

James, of ResponsibleOhio, focuses on the perceived benefits of 
legalization: economic growth, reduced demands on law enforcement, 
medicinal benefits and so on. If voters find those things appealing, 
he said, they need to be realistic about what it takes to make 
legalization a reality.

"People say, 'Why don't you just legalize marijuana and leave it up 
to the state to determine who gets licenses?' Okay, but who pays for 
that? Who is actually going to put in the money needed to win that 
campaign? I know the answer," James said. "Nobody."

But it's no longer as simple as saying "yes" or "no" to weed: In 
June, lawmakers threw a wrench into the debate by introducing another 
measure on the ballot - one asking voters if they want to prohibit 
anyone from using the state constitution to grant someone a monopoly.

What happens if Ohioans vote yes to banning monopolies and yes to 
marijuana legalization? No one seems to agree on that, but it could 
happen. An Oct. 20 poll showed 56 percent of voters plan to support 
prohibiting constitutionally granted monopolies. But on legalization, 
the vote was tied: 46 percent in favor, 46 percent opposed, 8 percent 

The next day, ResponsibleOhio posted a new advertisement on YouTube.

"I'm Nick Lachey. Ohio is my home, and I care very deeply about the 
people here . . ."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom