ResponsibleOhio — the private investment group critically referred to as a cartel that is attempting to convince voters in the Buckeye State to pass a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana — has gained plenty of national media attention during the past few weeks.
While the controversial effort, if successful, would allow cannabis consumers in the state to possess, consume, and even grow a small number of plants, the majority of marijuana advocates are against it. But why?
In a word: Monopoly.
Or, as some picky observers will correct, an oligopoly. Regardless of semantics, if passed by voters, ResponsibleOhio’s bill would create a closed market for the production of cannabis in the state. Unlike Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — which are open markets that invite robust competition (resulting in lower prices and higher quality for consumers) — ResponsibleOhio’s plan would limit production to 10 “pot factories” located throughout the state, each owned by a different investor who has ponied up nearly $4 million.
Following the saga of ResponsibleOhio has become a near-daily task due to the rapid pace at which the drama is unfolding. On Monday, July 20, it was revealed that the investment group’s signature drive, which collected more than double the number necessary to place the bill on the November ballot, had come up short of valid signatures to the tune of 29,509 (nearly 306,000 signatures are necessary).
In Franklin County, where ResponsibleOhio is headquartered, the validity rate for signatures collected was only about 40 percent. In Hamilton County, located in extreme southwest Ohio and home to Cincinnati, the validity rate was only 34 percent. In most counties, the majority of signatures collected were invalid.
Unless the percentage of valid signatures from the previous signature gathering campaign dramatically improve during the 10-day cure period, about 75,000 signatures will need to be collected overall (that’s 7,500 signatures per day). The group has until July 30 to accomplish its goal.
Some observers have theorized that ResponsibleOhio’s validity rate is so low due to the fact that it hired paid signature gatherers, many of whom arguably had little concern or vested interest in passage of the law. Cannabis legalization efforts in other states have traditionally utilized grass roots volunteers and activists for signature drives, helping ensure their dedication and concern for the campaign (and not simply collecting a paycheck).
Ohio law permits the group to compensate for its shortfall with a “cure period” of 10 calendar days in which it may collect additional signatures. If ResponsibleOhio is able to gather nearly 50,000 valid signatures during this period, it will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot. If not, it’s dead in the water.
Multiple Fronts of Opposition
However, even if the group is able to gather the required number of valid signatures within this time period, its bill still faces two major obstacles to passage.
First, November’s election will be an “off-off” year, meaning there are no major state or national offices or issues on the ballot. This typically results in lower turnout comprised mostly of an older voter population, a demographic that recent polls have shown is decidedly against marijuana legalization. ResponsibleOhio would need all the help it could get to convince enough citizens who will actually step into the voting booth that the measure is worthy of passage.
Second, ResponsibleOhio faces opposition not only from marijuana advocates who are opposed to the monopolization of production facilities in the state, but also from conservative politicians. Ohio’s Republican-dominated legislature and its most prominent leaders are openly against legalization of cannabis.
Whether as a ruse to cover their true intent of maintaining cannabis prohibition or a sincere effort to prevent monopolies in the state, Ohio’s lawmakers recently cleared a bill for inclusion on the November ballot that, if passed by voters, will prevent modifications to the state’s constitution that result in monopolies.
The proposed constitutional amendment, called House Joint Resolution 4 (HJR4), would:
“…prohibit an initiated constitutional amendment that would grant a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel, specify or determine a tax rate, or confer a commercial interest, right, or license to any person or nonpublic entity.”
If ResponsibleOhio is able to gather the required number of valid signatures during the cure period, it will go toe-to-toe in November with the anti-monopoly issue. Assuming voter turnout is, as predicted, largely baby boomers and retirees — most of whom will know few of the details of either bill — they will likely support preventing monopolies in their state while also desiring to maintain marijuana prohibition.
However, assume that enough voters in Ohio say yes to ResponsibleOhio for passage. If HJR4 also passes, it will go into effect immediately, not 30 days later, as is the case with the legalization bill. This would nullify the investment group’s victory in no uncertain terms. The organization’s only option would be to rewrite its bill and begin the signature gathering effort anew for the 2016 ballot. Whether the proposed cartel’s wealthy investors would be willing to assume even more risk and wait another year for victory is obviously uncertain.
Desperation is a Stinky Cologne
Watching the ResponsibleOhio PR machine at work has been like witnessing an overly confident, opportunistic squirrel slowly die after a fatal fall incurred from reaching too far out on a branch for a nut. Recently, the campaign addressed naysayers by claiming that limited production will prevent low-quality or tainted product from making it to market.
Critics quickly countered that states like Washington and Oregon employ the simple process of testing. In states where recreational cannabis is legal, testing laboratories are quickly emerging to ensure the safety of cannabis and related products in an effort to help dispensaries and retail outlets comply with state regulations and protect patients.
Advocates Concerned about Precedent
Cannabis advocates and activists around the country are closely watching this situation. The fear is that, if it passes, ResponsibleOhio will send a message to similar well-heeled investors throughout the nation that citizens in other states might be willing to accept a constitutional amendment granting investors a closed market and, thus, guaranteed revenue based on a lack of competition.
Similarly, if ResponsibleOhio fails — whether from a shortfall of valid signatures, lack of votes in November, or being overruled by the passage of HJR4 — it will send a signal to investors eager to cash in on the “green rush” that there are limits to what state legislatures and citizens are willing to accept in exchange for legal pot.
Marijuana, specifically medical cannabis, has been getting plenty of press lately. CNN recently aired Weed 3, the third installment in Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s marijuana documentary series. In it, Gupta focused on the medical benefits of cannabis, specifically to treat veterans with PTSD. The show also covered the tremendous bureaucratic hurdles that prevent effective marijuana research.
The documentary, an objective and moderate survey of current marijuana research studies and the politics behind legal pot, has been viewed by millions, serving as a powerful educational tool. Gupta, known for his former opposition to medical cannabis, is now one of its most ardent supporters.
Progress Meets Republican Defiance
Despite educational documentaries like Weed 3, medical cannabis laws in 24 states, and a middle America that is waking to the reality of marijuana efficacy, powerful Luddites — typically in the form of Republican senators and governors — still wield power and influence. Within the past week, three prominent conservative politicians, all of whom are mulling the office of president, have gone public with their opposition to marijuana legalization at any level — medicinal or recreational.
Earlier this week, New Jersey governor Chris Christie said during an interview that, if president, he would enforce federal law in all states that currently permit medical or recreational use of cannabis. In other words, Christie would openly oppose the will of the voters in any state in the nation that went counter to federal law and legalized any type of cannabis use.
Rubio Echoes Christie
Adding to this conservative dialog is Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida who, like Christie, is rumored to be contemplating a presidential run in 2016. While being interviewed by radio host Hugh Hewitt, Rubio expressed his respect for states crafting their own laws, but ultimately said that federal law should trump the efforts of renegade states to legalize marijuana. Rubio told Hewitt during his interview:
“I think we need to enforce our federal laws. Now do states have a right to do what they want? They don’t agree with it, but they have their rights. But they don’t have a right to write federal policy as well….”
“I don’t believe we should be in the business of legalizing additional intoxicants in this country for the primary reason that when you legalize something, what you’re sending a message to young people is it can’t be that bad, because if it was that bad, it wouldn’t be legal.”
Kasich will Oppose ResponsibleOhio
Finally, another 2016 Republican presidential nominee hopeful, John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, also spoke out on Hewitt’s show about his stance on marijuana legalization. Kasich said he is “totally opposed” to legalization, but also said he’s not sure that, as president, he would oppose states like Colorado and Washington that have imposed legalization that goes counter to federal law.
Kasich turns out to be the most moderate when it comes to cannabis legalization among these three possible Republican presidential candidates. While he said, if president, he wouldn’t interfere with states that choose to legalize, he did say that he is officially opposed to any legalization effort in his own state — a thinly veiled reference to ResponsibleOhio and its 2015 ballot initiative to legalize both recreational and medical cannabis in the Buckeye State.
Despite his prediction that, as president, he’d allow states like Colorado and Alaska to legalize cannabis within their own borders, Kasich compared the dangers of cannabis to heroin, proving his ignorance of medical efficacy issues. For those in Ohio who are excited about the prospects of legal medical and recreational cannabis, it should be remembered that Ohio’s efforts to legalize will be opposed not only by Kasich and most of the Ohio legislature, but also by a variety of conservative factions within government, business, and organized religion.
Cannabis consumers and those who advocate medical marijuana are excited. As they should be.
Nearly half the states in the nation now allow some form of legal marijuana for medical purposes. Four states (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska) and the District of Columbia now enjoy legal recreational herb with a variety of restrictions, from the ban on outdoor growing in Colorado to the prohibition of personal cultivation of any type in Washington.
Laws to legalize recreational and medical use of cannabis are popping up across the nation — even in typically conservative states like Arizona, Illinois, and Ohio.
However, much of this progress is accompanied by a backlash. While states like California and Colorado are commonly considered models of safe access that provide an alternative to the black market, it’s not all peaches and cream. Dozens of communities in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have banned sales of both medical and recreational herb in an effort to prevent this plant-based medicine from becoming established within their borders.
What About Everyone Else?
If this type of backlash is being experienced in the country’s most progressive states, what about other areas? Plenty of cannabis consumers are excited in the Buckeye State, where an investment group/political action committee called ResponsibleOhio is gathering signatures for a November ballot issue that would legalize medical and recreational cannabis. If it becomes law, the legislation would impose a highly regulated infrastructure for the cultivation, sale, medical dispensation, and use of pot.
However, when one digs into the details of the bill, it becomes apparent that the governor, John Kasich — a conservative Republican with a history of opposing high-speed rail, safe access to abortions, and teacher’s unions — could really put a dent in the plans of ResponsibleOhio.
Under the proposed legislation, Kasich would appoint a board of seven members to regulate and manage Ohio’s cannabis industry. The only problem: Kasich is staunchly opposed to cannabis legalization for any reason. If he chooses to defy the spirit of the law and appoints oppositional figures to manage Ohio’s pot business, they may purposefully drag their feet or impose overly restrictive regulations that leave many entrepreneurs and consumers feeling cheated and without medicine.
Because ResponsibleOhio was able to gather enough signatures to make the November ballot, conservative legislators in Columbus have been scrambling. Recently, lawmakers put on the ballot a bill that would prevent monopolies from becoming enshrined in the state’s constitution. Because of the way the two bills are written, the anti-monopoly law would go into effect immediately, whereas cannabis legalization ala ResponsibleOhio would go into effect in 30 days, on December 3 — meaning it would be instantly nullified, regardless of by how wide a margin it might win.
Whether Ohio’s politicians are motivated most by a disdain for legal cannabis or a true aversion to state-sponsored monopolies is uncertain. What is obvious is that opponents of ResponsibleOhio are using every trick in the book to stop it in its tracks. Will conservative senators and representatives similarly attack future voter initiatives to legalize recreational cannabis that don’t involve monopolies?
Despite a federal ban that prohibits the Department of Justice from interfering with the states where medical marijuana is legal, the feds continue to bust medical dispensaries in California, Washington, and other states. DOJ officials have gone on record saying they believe their actions are legal and that they are simply enforcing the federal-level ban on marijuana.
Even ResponsibleOhio’s plan to allow adults to grow up to four mature plants would, technically, go against national law and expose growers to the possibility of prosecution at the federal level. Even more intimidating for citizen gardeners: Ohio would require growers to register with the state, a database that could potentially get into the hands of the feds. This is especially possible if Kasich and his seven appointees decided they wanted to play mean. While it’s unlikely that someone growing three plants to avoid the black market would come under the eye of the feds, it’s certainly possible.
In July, Congress killed a bill intended to allow limited research of medical cannabis. The effort was apparently snuffed 0ut by the House Judiciary Committee, which is led by Virginia Republican Robert Goodlatte. This is the definition of conservative backlash and epitomizes the culture war over cannabis: The bill would have limited such research to studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under guidance from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Some in Congress, like Virginia Rep Robert Goodlatte and Maryland Congressman Andy Harris (a physician), are so opposed to objective, scientific studies of cannabis that they will not allow even their own drug war warriors, the DEA, to manage their own medical research organization, the NIH, for very limited studies. This latest Congressional opposition to cannabis studies of any type illustrates the fact that robust, productive research of the herb in the treatment of conditions like cancer, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, and anxiety will not occur until cannabis is reclassified as Schedule II or lower under the Controlled Substances Act.
While many will analogize cannabis legalization to same-sex marriage and LGBT issues, it is more akin to climate change. By refusing to perform cannabis research itself and blocking all other clinical studies in the United States by maintaining the Schedule I status of cannabis, the nation’s legislators are burying their collective heads in the sand.
This is the dark side at its best. And the Force is strong, well funded, and mostly opposed to any form of cannabis legalization.
Make no mistake, as more progress is made at the state level, Congress, corporate interests, and the leaders in D.C. won’t simply sit back and watch prohibition crumble around them. As more states jump on the legalization bandwagon, federal and state opposition will become increasingly vocal and threatening. Unlike in Canada, where medical marijuana exists at the federal level, no national protections are in force for medical or recreational cannabis consumers in the United States.
Today, the legalization of marijuana campaign in Ohio got a big lift from an unlikely supporter. NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson has joined with a group called ResponsibleOhio that are backing the legalization of marijuana in Ohio.
Besides Robertson, ResponsibleOhio is made up of a number of impressive supporters, from a former NFL player to leading fashion designer. . As of Friday, ResponsibleOhio had a total of 11 backers that also include esteemed CEO’s and philanthropists.
ResponsibleOhio is one of two legalization campaigns found in Ohio. However, they are up against some stiff competition. There have been five statewide officeholders who are very vocal about their opposition to this cause.
ResponsibleOhio is confident in their efforts to feature this matter on the ballot this coming fall. If the plan passes, the Ohio Constitution would allow those older than 21 to be able to use marijuana legally for both medical and personal use.
Many people might remember Robertson from his time in the NBA on the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks. He also played at the University of Cincinnati. A lot of this background is why he so strongly advocates for legalized marijuana. He said in a statement that ResponisbleOhio released that he was joining this campaign because of the medical benefits.
“It’s a terrible feeling when you can’t help someone suffering from cancer or another debilitating medical condition — I know from personal experience.”
Basketball fans may remember that Roberson had surgery a couple of years ago after being told that he had prostate cancer.
ResponisbleOhio sees the legalization of marijuana involving a network of about 10 growers each bringing their product to specific testing facilities. There, the pot would go through screenings for safety and potency.
After that, the marijuana would be sent to a medical marijuana dispensary, retail outlet or be put into other consumer products.
The backers of ResponsibleOhio plan to administrate and manage the operation of all facilities.
Full List of Investors:
- Rick KirK
- Oscar Robertson
- Nanette Lepore
- Barbara Gould
- Frostee Rucker
- Sir Alan Mooney
- William J. Foster
- William “Cheney” Pruett
- John Humphrey
- Bobby George
Photo Credit: ResponsibleOhio
An organization called Ohio Rights Group spent last year advocating for legalized medical marijuana in the state of Ohio. However, the group failed to collect the 385,000 signatures needed to put the medical marijuana amendment, Ohio Cannabis Rights Act, on the 2014 ballot. Now, a different group going by the name Responsible Ohio announced a campaign to put a full legalization amendment on the 2015 ballot.
The full legalization movement would allow for only 10 licenses to cultivate the marijuana, and an anonymous source reportedly told Cleveland.com that the group already has the millions in funding needed to collect enough signatures to place the initiative on the ballot next year. The funding is coming from the 10 property owners who would reserve exclusive rights to the cultivation of the plant, thus reserving exclusive rights to much of the legal marijuana profits.
The Responsible Ohio campaign is keeping most information secret at this time, but the group’s spokesperson, Lydia Bolander, did release the statement,
“Marijuana for medical and personal use should be a choice made by adults 21 and older in this state. We are going to end this failed prohibition. Legalizing marijuana for medical and personal use means increased safety because we will regulate, tax and treat marijuana like alcohol. We will smother the black market and use the taxes generated to help local communities provide vital public services.”
The amendment proposed by Responsible Ohio would set-up a Marijuana Control Commission to regulate the legal system. The group is confident that this would be possible because of the precedent set with a 2009 approval of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, which allowed for only four casinos to run in the state.
Few others familiar with marijuana initiatives in the state agree with the hopeful viewpoint of Responsible Ohio. For example, attorney Jon Allison who represents the Drug Free Action Alliance told Dispatch,
“If you put that creators of the Sopranos and Breaking Bad in the same room they couldn’t come up with a plot this far fetched. Perhaps the details will help clarify things but right now it sounds like 10 wannabe drug lords are going to ask Ohio voters to constitutionally protect their cartels and turf.”
The president of the medical marijuana activist organization Ohio Rights Group, John Pardee, also spoke out against this style of an amendment, explaining, “I’m against creating a constitutional monopoly.”
The group has until July of next year to collect enough signatures to place this full legalization initiative on the 2015 ballot.