Victims of the drug war in Ohio may be rejoicing at the thought of an end to prohibition in their state; however, some industry advocates and activists around the country are skeptical about the proposed commercial system under the state’s Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative which will be voted on as a State Constitutional Amendment in November. This initiative is being led by a group called ResponsibleOhio.
If the amendment passes, Ohio will easily be the largest legal market, by population. With more than 11.5 million people, Ohio is the 7th most populous state, and will likely be an enormous market for domestic (in-state) demand. With several of the country’s larger cities and a large black and Hispanic population, ending prohibition will undoubtedly have a positive impact on incarceration and systematic discrimination by law enforcement. As was the case in Colorado and Washington, thousands of jobs were created by the new industry, in addition to stabilizing the commercial real estate market with cultivation centers and retail stores, and reducing the amount of money spent during the age of cannabis criminalization.
Despite these benefits, a closer read of the law reveals the potential making of a monopoly market – one in which a small group of Ohio’s wealthiest individuals get first entry into the cultivation market. According to ResponsibleOhio’s website, “100% of the over 1,100 businesses for retail, dispensary, and manufacturing are open to the public.” However, they also add that there will only be “ten initial commercial growing sites”, giving the State of Ohio the right to add more licenses if necessary. With only 10 large scale cultivation sites, it will be unlikely that Ohioans will have access to the same quality of product that is available at small mom-and-pop retail stores in Colorado and other states. As was demonstrated in Washington during the early implementation of Initiative 502, license limits and other obstacles to implementing a regulated commercial system fuels the continued proliferation of the black market – absent of regulation, testing, age verification, or taxation. ResponsibleOhio seems to be conscious of the cannabis industry’s perception of a monopolistic system, as they specifically state, “They [cultivation centers] will be operated by separate companies and have to compete with each other on price and quality, which is the exact opposite of a monopoly.”
With the country’s 25th best economy (according to Business Insider), taxation and legal employment for Ohioans in the legal cannabis industry could substantially boost the state’s economic progress. But, a system with an artificially capped number of licenses is more likely to fill the coffers of a handful of wealthy business men and women, as well as black market dealers.
Perhaps the real value in Ohio’s legalization movement is political. Ohio is a notorious swing state, with the winner of their electoral college votes winning the presidency in the past five presidential elections. Legalization in the Buckeye State could be an insightful predictor of the success or failure of ending the war on cannabis. 2015, however, is an off-year election, and not even a midterm, which greatly compromises its success.
Presidential elections (2016) draw substantially higher numbers of young voters who tend to support legalization. Not to mention that young voters tend to vote Democrat, which regardless of political affiliation, is undeniably the desired outcome for the cannabis industry. This begs the question: why is ResponsibleOhio trying to pass an legalization initiative this year instead of waiting and campaigning for an extra year for the 2016 Presidential election?
I guess we’ll find out on November 3, 2015.
What do you think about ResponsibleOhio? Comment below and let us know!