Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ohio's controversial marijuana legalization initiative

Marijuana Legalization 2015: Ohio’s Push To Legalize Pot Creates Rifts Within Pro-Pot Movement - Joel Warner, International Business Times:

September 10, 2015 - "Ohio, which is among the 27 states that do not allow for medical marijuana, has become an unexpected hot spot in the national marijuana policy debate by placing a legalization initiative on its off-year election ballot. The specifics of that initiative, spearheaded by a organization called ResponsibleOhio, has given marijuana proponents pause: If passed as written, the amendment would limit cultivation and extraction of medical and recreational marijuana in Ohio to 10 land parcels in the state – parcels owned by 10 investment groups that have together funded ResponsibleOhio’s $20 million campaign. In other words, those bankrolling marijuana legalization in Ohio would have exclusive rights to control the economic backbone of what’s estimated to be a $1 billion-plus state industry....

"The amendment that Ohioans will vote on in November has a lot going for it, say some cannabis experts. For starters, says marijuana law professor Sam Kamin at the University of Denver, by legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana at the same time, Ohio could avoid regulatory headaches.... Legalization in Ohio also could come with criminal justice reform; if it passes, ResponsibleOhio plans to push for a “Fresh Start Act” in 2016 that would expunge Ohio convictions for marijuana offenses that are no longer illegal.

"Then there’s the idea of limiting statewide cultivation to 10 sites: On the surface, that’s not an outrageous idea.... The problem rests with who gets to own those 10 sites in Ohio.... ResponsibleOhio’s game plan has been compared to gambling initiatives funded by corporations that are first in line to operate the resulting casinos....

"Ohioans to End Prohibition has hundreds of people throughout the state working to collect the 306,000 signatures it needs by next July 1 to get their legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. But [Sri] Kavuru, the head of the operation, spends the majority of his time fighting ResponsibleOhio's initiative.... In phone calls with voters, media interviews and political meetings at the capitol, he repeats his central argument: 'When everyone who wants to be in the legal marijuana industry is able to do so, it has the biggest impact on the black market. It is better for consumers and better for patients when there is free-market competition dictating the parameters of the marketplace'....

"'We support ending marijuana prohibition and this system would do that, but it’s up to voters to look at this system and decide whether it’s what they want,” says Mason Tvert, the usually bold and decisive communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. 'It’s not our responsibility, it’s not our issue. There’s not much else we can say about it.'

"Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), is more forthcoming on the matter. 'There is something fundamentally wrong with writing into a state constitution an oligarchy over wholesale production of an agricultural product,' he says. But so far, DPA hasn’t taken a formal position on the amendment.

"At Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), Executive Director Betty Aldworth is especially impassioned over the initiative. 'It is the hairiest, stickiest mess that I have seen in all of marijuana policy reform to date,' she says. But even SSDP hasn’t officially come out against the ballot measure.

"The issue has become so fraught that it’s causing upheaval in some marijuana groups. In June, Rob Ryan, the president of the Ohio chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, was ousted after he came out in support of ResponsibleOhio....

"While the ballot measure divided Ohio’s NORML chapter, NORML’s national office looks to be the first major cannabis organization to embrace ResponsibleOhio. 'We hemmed and hawed for a while but decided fairly quickly that any initiative that stops the prosecution of marijuana smokers and establishes a legal market where consumers can buy marijuana in a safe and secure setting is one that national NORML is going to support,' says Keith Stroup, NORML’s founder. 'Even though it doesn’t feel quite right to me, the reality is it’s just a question of who gets rich off of marijuana. Someone gets rich off it in every state, including medical marijuana states.'"

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