Pubdate: Mon, 02 Nov 2015
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2015 The New York Times Company
Authors: Mitch Smith and Sheryl Gay Stolberg


COLUMBUS, Ohio - As a member of the International Cannabinoid 
Research Society, a collector of antique marijuana apothecary jars, 
the founder of an industrial hemp business and "a pot smoker 
consistently for 47 years," Don Wirtshafter, an Ohio lawyer, has 
fought for decades to make marijuana legal, calling it "my life's work."

But when Ohio voters go to the polls Tuesday to consider a 
constitutional amendment to allow marijuana for both medical and 
personal use, Mr. Wirtshafter will vote against it.

Issue 3, as the proposed amendment is known, is bankrolled by wealthy 
investors spending nearly $25 million to put it on the ballot and 
sell it to voters. If it passes, they will have exclusive rights to 
growing commercial marijuana in Ohio. The proposal has a strange 
bedfellows coalition of opponents: law enforcement officers worried 
about crime, doctors worried about children's health, state lawmakers 
and others who warn that it would enshrine a monopoly in the Ohio Constitution.

The result has been one of the nation's oddest legalization 
campaigns. It pits a new generation of corporate investors against 
grass-roots advocates like Mr. Wirtshafter, who deplores 
"opportunists seeking monopolistic gains" and laments that America 
would have been much better off "if they would have just let the 
hippies have their weed."

A recent poll by the University of Akron shows voters evenly split, 
but if the proposal passes, Ohio will be the first state to approve 
marijuana for personal use without first legalizing medical 
marijuana. That would put Ohio, a swing state, at the forefront of 
the national movement to overhaul marijuana laws - just in time for 
the 2016 presidential campaign. Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, a 
Republican candidate for president, opposes Issue 3.

"If Ohio wins, it will be a significant step forward for the broader 
movement - nothing will excite attention like that," said Ethan 
Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which 
has helped lead the national drive for legalization. But his group is 
remaining neutral rather than endorsing Issue 3, he said, "because of 
the problematic oligopoly provision."

To complicate matters, the Ohio General Assembly has put a competing 
initiative, Issue 2, on the ballot; known as the antimonopoly 
amendment, it would block Issue 3 by prohibiting the granting of 
special rights through the State Constitution. There is certain to be 
a protracted legal battle if both measures pass.

The story of how Issue 3 got onto the ballot begins here in Columbus, 
the capital, with Ian James, a political consultant whose company, 
the Strategy Network, specializes in gathering signatures for ballot 
initiatives. In 2009, his firm helped legalize casino gambling in 
Ohio through a measure that amended the State Constitution and 
specified where casinos could be located.

Mr. James said he had "taken that premise and applied it to 
marijuana." In early 2014, he said, he began meeting with lawyers and 
a potential investor, James Gould, a Cincinnati sports agent, to talk 
about a "tightly regulated system" to make marijuana available in 
Ohio. An organization called the Ohio Rights Group, then represented 
by Mr. Wirtshafter, was already gathering signatures for an 
initiative to make medical marijuana legal.

But Mr. James had a more ambitious plan.

With help from Mr. Gould, he found 10 investment groups willing to 
put up a minimum of $2 million each to finance a campaign to pass an 
amendment that would legalize marijuana for medical use and personal 
use in small amounts; set up a commission to regulate it; and 
designate 10 parcels of land - each owned or optioned by funders of 
the initiative - where marijuana could be legally grown and 
cultivated for commercial use.

Adults 21 and older would also be allowed to grow small amounts of 
marijuana - up to four flowering plants - for themselves. The state 
commission would license retailers, who would be required to win 
elections in local precincts.

The backers call themselves ResponsibleOhio. Among the investors: the 
former professional basketball player Oscar Robertson, the fashion 
designer Nanette Lepore, Mr. Gould and two great-great-grand-nephews 
of President William Howard Taft. Each investment group has committed 
as much as $40 million to build facilities if Issue 3 passes.

Mr. James, whose detractors note that his firm is earning more than 
$5 million to run ResponsibleOhio, makes no bones about what critics 
call "the corporatization" of the marijuana business. He said the 
sale of marijuana would, beginning in 2020, generate $554 million a 
year in tax revenue for Ohio; 85 percent would go toward safety 
services and infrastructure repair.

"We have clearly taken this from the tie-dye to the suit-and-tie 
approach, there is no question about that," Mr. James said. "Right, 
wrong or indifferent, this is the way legalization is moving in this 
country now."

National advocates are split: The Marijuana Policy Project, like the 
Drug Policy Alliance, is neutral on Issue 3, while the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or Norml, gave it an 
uneasy endorsement. Some legalization proponents say Mr. James has 
created a new model.

"If he is successful with this, a bunch of very rich people will be 
interested in hiring him to try it in other places," said Douglas A. 
Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who has advised 

Mr. James says he has no plans for other states, though at least five 
- - including California and Nevada - are expected to have ballot 
initiatives in 2016.

Outraged lawmakers in Ohio's Republican-controlled legislature, 
unwilling to cede control over drug policy, responded with Issue 2, 
which passed the House with bipartisan backing and the Senate along 
party lines. State Representative Michael F. Curtin, a Democrat and 
former editor of The Columbus Dispatch, helped draft the measure, and 
is a driving force behind Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies, the 
opponents' coalition.

He calls Issue 3 "a prostitution of the initiative process."

ResponsibleOhio is making its case to voters on the airwaves (Mr. 
James said his group would spend as much as $9 million on radio and 
television ads); with celebrity endorsements (Montel Williams, the 
talk show host who touts medicinal marijuana as treatment for his 
multiple sclerosis, was here last week); and with paid canvassers 
who, Mr. James said, will have knocked on one million doors by Election Day.

But perhaps the group's most contentious marketing effort has been 
Buddie, an anthropomorphic marijuana bud who looks a bit like a spear 
of asparagus wearing green cowboy boots and a blue cape, and who has 
been turning up on college campuses around the state. Critics liken 
him to Joe Camel, the cartoon character accused of marketing Camel 
cigarettes to children.

On the campus of the University of Cincinnati on Thursday, Buddie 
posed for photos and found no shortage of fans among students; most 
eagerly accepted free T-shirts (with messages like "O-High-O"). Many 
who stopped were passionate about legalization. Others said it 
mattered little to them. One, Lee Idoine, told campaign workers who 
accompanied Buddie that he "worried about the big businesses getting 
an edge on the market right away."

Mr. Wirtshafter, who practices law in Athens, Ohio, but resigned as 
the lawyer for the Ohio Rights Group after it endorsed Issue 3, said 
Buddie proved "how little the organizers of Issue 3 knew about 
cannabis, its politics and its users." Mr. Wirtshafter is now active 
with a new group, Legalize Ohio 2016, which plans its own ballot 
initiative next year.

On Saturday, he planned to attend a Halloween celebration with a 
mascot of his own: Monopoly Man.

Mitch Smith reported from Columbus, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Washington.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom