Great news from the Great Lakes: Voters in Ohio will decide this fall whether the state should legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The vote could also legalize medical cannabis.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced in August that a group of reform advocates turned in more than enough signatures to put the question on the ballot Nov. 3. The activists behind ResponsibleOhio gathered 320,267 valid signatures from registered voters, 14,676 more than the state required, Husted said.
It’s not clear whether the initiative can win the support needed to pass in November, but advocates hailed the decision as a huge step for weed reform.
“It’s time for marijuana legalization in Ohio, and voters will have the opportunity to make it happen this November,” said Ian James, executive director of ResponsibleOhio. “We couldn’t be more excited. . . . By reforming marijuana laws in November, we’ll provide compassionate care to sick Ohioans, bring money back to our local communities and establish a new industry with limitless economic development opportunities.”
Highest funded legalization campaign in history
ResponsibleOhio spent more than $2 million pushing to get its initiative on the ballot. Winning with voters will require much more. The group has already won the backing of large national reform groups, making its campaign the best-funded legalization push in American history.
The state decriminalized weed years ago, but it still hasn’t adopted medical cannabis laws. That gives ResponsibleOhio an extra hurdle to clear, since every state that has legalized so far already had MMJ.
Officials still must write the ballot language for the legalization initiative. The Ohio Ballot Board was scheduled to meet Aug. 18 to draft the title and text of the proposal.
Four other states have already legalized recreational marijuana, including Washington, Colorado, Alaska, and Oregon. Washington, D.C. also voted to allow retail pot last fall.
ResponsibleOhio promised investment boost
The investors financing ResponsibleOhio have promised to give another $20 million in the months leading up to the election. The effort will include ads on the internet, radio, and TV; voter registration drives; door-knocking; and a statewide bus tour.
The first ad ran on Fox News Aug. 6, during the GOP primary debate, which drew a record-breaking audience. That spot was broadcast before ResponsibleOhio had even finished counting signatures.
Lawmakers in Ohio have retaliated with oppressive legislation that would proactively prevent any marijuana industry in the state. That initiative, placed on the ballot by the state Legislature without voter input, would ban “a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel,” especially if it involved any federally prohibited substance.
Political establishment staunchly opposed
Almost the entire political establishment in Ohio is gearing up to stop ResponsibleOhio and legalization. Every statewide elected official is a conservative Republican, and they all oppose marijuana reform of any kind.
Husted, a Republican like the others, has declared that if voters approve both proposals, the legislature’s initiative would win out. ResponsibleOhio disputes that claim. That means Ohio could see a protracted court battle over reform if both sides win at the ballot.
Supporters of the legalization measure note that their proposal would generate more than $2 billion by 2020, with much of it going to tax coffers. But foes say the initiative would create a “monopoly” by limiting commercial cultivation of weed to 10 state-licensed farms.
That, Republicans say, would allow a small group of businesses to control a massive industry. This fits into a recent tactic developed by the failing movement to prevent legal weed: Claim that marijuana will soon be sold like cigarettes, by big, evil conglomerates determined to poison the world’s school children out of sheer psychopathic glee.
Technically, as USA Today pointed out, this kind of industry structure is an oligopoly, since it involves ownership by a group rather than a single company. In any event, the monopoly claim is highly misleading. Statewide restrictions and local regulations have prevented any business from dominating the markets where pot is legal; there’s no reason that should happen in Ohio, either.