Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Highlighting how Ohio initiative has deeply split traditional marijuana reform groups

Jacob Sullum has this notable new Forbes article about the notable rift created by the unique marijuana reform proposal going to voters in Ohio next week.  The article is headlined "Why Antiprohibitionists Are Ambivalent About Ohio's Marijuana Legalization Initiative," and here is how the piece starts and ends:

Next Tuesday voters in Ohio will decide whether to legalize marijuana. If Issue 3 passes and if another constitutional amendment aimed at overriding it does not, Ohio will be the first state to leap from complete pot prohibition to legalization for both medical and recreational use.  It will also be the most populous state and the first state east of the Great Plains to legalize marijuana.  A legalization victory in Ohio, a bellwether in presidential elections, could have a big impact on politicians’ willingness to deviate from prohibitionist orthodoxy and on voters’ willingness to support next year’s crop of marijuana initiatives in other states.

Despite its potential significance, Issue 3 does not merit a mention in a message about marijuana legalization that I received yesterday from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). In the fundraising letter, DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann recalls last year’s successful initiatives in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., and he looks forward to next year’s contests, when “more people than ever before will have the opportunity to vote on marijuana legalization.”  But he says nothing about next week’s election. There is no discussion of Issue 3 on DPA’s website either, although a few posts mention Ohio as one of the states where marijuana might be legalized.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), another leading reform group, has a paragraph about Issue 3 on its website but is not calling attention to the initiative as the vote nears. Nor is its description an endorsement.  “We encourage residents to carefully consider the measure and be sure to vote this November!” it says.

DPA and MPP, which had prominent roles in legalization campaigns last year and will again next year, are not involved in the Ohio initiative, so maybe it’s not surprising that they are not promoting it.  But that lack of involvement reflects strategic and philosophical differences within the drug policy reform movement that have made many opponents of pot prohibition ambivalent about Issue 3.  It’s an ambivalence I share. Although I’d like to see Issue 3 pass, I’m not exactly rooting for it.

Some of the objections to Issue 3 have to do with timing. MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia thinks it’s risky to put a marijuana initiative on the ballot in a year when people are not electing a president, since turnout is lower then, especially among the younger voters who are most likely to favor legalization.  He worries that a defeat in Ohio could be portrayed as a reversal of the legalization movement’s momentum. “That failure will be the only failure in the country,” he says, “and then the media will feed on that: ‘Oh, my God, legalization is backsliding.’…If they lose, which is not guaranteed, it might change the national narrative for one year.”

Although Kampia has a point, my main problem with Issue 3 is the cannabis cultivation cartel it would create: Commercial production would be limited to 10 pre-selected sites owned by the initiative’s financial backers, who are investing in the gains to be made from the economic privileges they are trying to award themselves.  This approach has the advantage of quickly raising a lot of money — money that can be used to pay marijuana mascots and produce ads featuring sympathetic beneficiaries of legalization (such as the mother who moved from Ohio to Colorado so she could treat her daughter’s epilepsy with cannabis oil).  The downside is that the crony capitalism embodied in Issue 3 disgusts a lot of people who otherwise support legalization.

That reaction is not limited to libertarians like me. “Damn,” DPA’s Nadelmann said while discussing the initiative in San Francisco last February.  “This thing sticks in my craw. Ten business interests are going to dominate this thing?”  Despite objections from the Yes on 3 campaign, a.k.a. Responsible Ohio, the ballot description highlights that aspect of the initiative, which unites progressives and libertarians in revulsion almost as much as prohibition itself....

Russ Belville, a longtime marijuana reform activist and talk radio host, faults leading antiprohibitionists for doing little or nothing to help push Issue 3 over the top.  “Why isn’t every drug law reform group making their get-out-the-vote push and shouting it from the rooftops?” he asked in an October 12 Marijuana Politics post.  Belville noted that Issue 3 is in some respects superior to I-502, the 2012 Washington initiative, which got much more enthusiastic support from groups such as DPA, MPP, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).  Unlike I-502, for instance, Issue 3 allows home cultivation (although only with a state-issued license), and it does not create an arbitrary definition of drugged driving based on THC blood levels.

NORML, unlike DPA and MPP, has endorsed Issue 3, albeit under the headline “Investor-Driven Legalization: A Bitter Pill to Swallow.”  In that September 14 post, NORML founder Keith Stroup, now the group’s general counsel, noted that the board vote in favor of the initiative was “less than unanimous.”  He explained that “a couple of board members abstained, and one flatly opposed the endorsement, to register their displeasure with the self-enrichment aspects of the Ohio proposal.”  Stroup added that “this specific version of legalization ― in which the investors alone would control and profit from the 10 commercial cultivation and extraction centers (where marijuana-infused products would be produced) permitted under the proposal — is a perversion of the voter initiative process available in 24 states.”

This week Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) joined NORML in supporting Issue 3, without mentioning the perversion that troubles Stroup.  Instead LEAP emphasized the benefits of eliminating arrests for marijuana possession and moving the industry out of the black market.  The statement quoted Howard Rahtz, a retired Cincinnati police captain: “Legalization will take money away from the cartels, provide funding for public safety and health services, and reduce the violence associated with the illegal drug market.”

Belville urges antiprohibitionists to focus on the main issue: the government’s power “to abrogate my rights because the drug I choose to use is contraband.”  The Issue 3 campaign is a battle in a war, he says, and “the way the war is won is by taking from the authorities, state by state, the ability to fuck with adults who use marijuana.”  After that is accomplished, “we fight for cultivation rights,” and “we fight to make the business model more equitable,” but “we’ve got to get it legal first.”

It’s hard to argue with that. Ohioans will indisputably have more freedom if Issue 3 passes than if it doesn’t, and that victory can only accelerate the continuing collapse of marijuana prohibition across the country.  If we must choose between cartels, the one Issue 3 creates is clearly preferable to the ones Capt. Rahtz wants to push out of the marijuana business.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2015/10/spotlighting-how-ohio-initiative-has-deeply-split-traditional-marijuana-reform-groups.html

Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink

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