Southern Sunday: US Legalization After Devastating Ohio Loss
Good day, eh? The crew at Cannabis Culture have asked me to contribute a weekly column giving you my perspective on the state of marijuana law reform in the United States. I’ll give you my thoughts every Sunday from south of the border here in Portland, Oregon.
I just returned from the state of Ohio. The audacious attempt to legalize both medical and adult use marijuana in this conservative swing state failed miserably, notching only 35.9 percent support. It was doomed the moment the Ohio Supreme Court decided the initiative could be labeled a “monopoly”, despite the fact the initiative mandated ten competing legal grow sites, already owned by the campaign investors, while proposing over one thousand independent retailers, and gave adults the right to grow their own cannabis.
The initiative was further derailed by the legislature pressing an anti-monopoly issue to appear on the ballot before the legalization issue. In the US, proposing a “monopoly” is bound to get attacked from the right by business-types who abhor the regulatory capture and from the left by legalization-types who bemoan lack of fair market entry for longtime cannabis farmers. “Monopoly” may as well be the word “dogshit” in capitalist America, and the ballot asked first “Shall we allow dogshit in the Constitution” followed by “Shall dogshit be the way we regulate marijuana”?
Then, add in the pressing of the issue during an off-off-year election. Our presidential elections every four years draw the youngest, most-liberal electorate likely to support marijuana law reform. It’s no surprise that Colorado and Washington legalized in presidential years. Our congressional elections every two years are the next best bet. That’s when Oregon and Alaska legalized.
But the Ohio campaign decided to run in an election when no national or statewide candidates were on the ballot, when the fewest young, liberal voters will show up. Then they doubled down by promoting the outrageous “Buddie” mascot that did nothing to drive the youth vote and everything to disgust the older voters leery of “Joe Camel”-style marijuana marketing.
I was one of the few national advocates strongly supporting the Ohio Issue 3. It seemed to me that I’ve been buying marijuana from a monopoly all my life – the dealer – so what do I care if ten landowners are competing to supply over 1,000 pot shops? Numerous medical marijuana laws that reformers nearly unanimously supported have far more monopolistic provisions than what Ohio proposed. I couldn’t look at a cancer patient, the parent of an epileptic kid, or a family struggling with the burden of a marijuana arrest and tell them to keep on suffering because the economic setup for cannabis farming isn’t ideal.
In the end, the “monopoly” designation killed Ohio Issue 3 and got it the lowest level of statewide support of any marijuana legalization proposal in the 21st century. Nevada in 2004 had the previous low of about 39 percent.
Even worse, the odious Issue 2, the anti-monopoly amendment, barely passed, which means that the next attempt to tax and regulate marijuana for medical or personal use, will likely require two majority votes, the first of which will ask “Shall we allow this dogshit to be considered” followed by “Shall this dogshit be the way we regulate marijuana”?
Emboldened by the nearly 2-to-1 victory for marijuana prohibition, but wary of the polls showing almost 90 percent support for medical marijuana, officials in the state of Ohio did exactly what I predicted they would in the wake of a loss. They are working to pass the least amount of medical marijuana they can to get the sympathetic epileptic kids, vets with PTSD, and bald cancer patients out of the statehouse out of the headlines.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine spoke this week about having to legalize medical marijuana, but to do it the right way, very controlled, with non-smokable pill forms of cannabis, a la New York and Minnesota. Ohio Governor John Kasich appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to talk about the same kind of limited medical marijuana law.
You can bet they’ll rush this law through the legislature before anyone can get a better medical marijuana initiative on the ballot. Then the reformers in Ohio will have to convince the people that the medical marijuana already passed isn’t good enough and get two majority votes to confirm it.
In the end, as we move into 2016, legalization will be voted on in Nevada and likely in California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and Michigan. Medical marijuana may be on the ballot in Florida and Missouri. Since marijuana law reformers largely abandoned and opposed Ohio’s Issue 3 for economic reasons, the question for voters in six states will now morph from whether or not marijuana should be legalized to whether or not this proposed form of legalization is the “right kind” of legalization.