Ohio Marijuana Legalization Effort Faces Major Headwinds Despite Recent Momentum

ohio cannabis legislation

By Tony C. Dreibus

A proposal to legalize medical and recreational marijuana in Ohio seems to be a shoo-in for the fall ballot, with organizers raising more than $36 million and gathering nearly double the number of signatures needed to put the measure in front of voters.

But the effort might run face first into a brick wall.

Leading state lawmakers hastily put together a bill that would effectively kill the proposal, even if it passes muster with voters on Nov. 3, over concerns that it would create a monopoly for a select few cannabis cultivators.

As a result, thousands of business opportunities and hundreds of millions of dollars in potential sales may never materialize. Investors also would likely lose anything they put toward the campaign – and they might have to wait at least another year to realize any returns on land, buildings or equipment they pumped money into as well, as it could be November 2016 before other legalization proposals reach voters.

Just as importantly, the lawmakers’ bill may have a chilling effect on future investments into the state’s cannabis industry if the state eventually legalizes.

“Accusations of market manipulation or monopolies are not doing anything to attract investors,” said Patrick Rea, the CEO and managing director of CanopyBoulder, a group that specializes in helping cannabis startups get on their feet through mentorship and investment programs in exchange for partial ownership. “I want as much certainty as possible, and cannabis already has enough uncertainty. This (disruption) doesn’t move Ohio to the top of my list as to where I’d put my next business accelerator.”

The backlash is tied to a controversial piece of the legalization proposal that would allow just 10 cultivation sites, which would be controlled by major donors to the campaign. Although the proposal – spearheaded by a group called ResponsibleOhio – would allow more than 1,100 dispensaries and recreational shops, lawmakers are concerned that the limited number of cultivation licenses would create a monopoly.

To stop that from happening, lawmakers have introduced House Joint Resolution 4 (HJR4). The bill, which also would appear before voters in November, essentially prohibits constitutional amendments that create monopolies, according to Reps. Ryan Smith and Mike Curtin, sponsors of the resolution.

If the lawmakers’ bill makes it on the ballot and is passed, it would nullify ResponsibleOhio’s legalization measure even if it gets the support of voters. The bill would essentially “block any upcoming initiatives that create a monopoly from becoming effective in the Ohio Constitution,” according to a release by the representatives.

“This would protect Ohio’s century-old constitutional initiative process from those who would pervert it, who would stand it on its head, who would use it to protect the privileged few rather than to protect the many against the privileged few,” Rep. Curtin said in the release.

ResponsibleOhio thus far has raised more than $36 million to promote the amendment and boasts as backers some of the state’s most influential families and celebrities, including descendants of the powerful Taft family, entertainer and restaurateur Nick Lachey, and basketball star Oscar Robertson. The group said last week it gathered 550,000 signatures, more than enough to put its measure on the November ballot.

Not everybody is certain that the lawmakers’ bill would nullify ResponsibleOhio’s amendment if both are passed by voters. A constitutional lawyer in Cleveland who spoke on background said he believes that ultimately the matter would have to be settled in court.

Ian James, the executive director of ResponsibleOhio, said politicians are merely using constitutional protections as a guise to undercut the will of the voters. If Ohioans don’t want to legalize marijuana, they can simply vote no on his groups’ proposed amendment, he said.

That’s not likely, however, as a Quinnipiac Poll in April showed that a whopping 84% of Ohio voters said they approve of cannabis for medical use while 52% said they support recreational marijuana.

Groups including the Tafts and other in-state celebrities that invested in ResponsibleOhio’s campaign and business owners who are preparing for legalization in the state haven’t been put off by the political wrangling because they’re used to it, James said.

“Nobody’s concerned because they knew this was a possibility, that the statehouse would try its darnedest to stop this,” he said. “The voters are pretty clear in their position for legalization. If the statehouse prevails and puts the issue before voters, we’re confident voters will overwhelmingly support our amendment.”

Chris Lindsey – a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, which is neutral on ResponsibleOhio’s measure – said the issue should be left to voters.

The lawmakers’ resolution, as written, is a purely political move, Lindsey said.

“I suspect this is more likely driven by an effort to ensure that even if a majority wants to change the failed policy of prohibition,” they can’t, he said.

Tony C. Dreibus can be reached at [email protected]

9 comments on “Ohio Marijuana Legalization Effort Faces Major Headwinds Despite Recent Momentum
  1. Ohiovoter on

    This isn’t about stopping social justice, this is about stopping anti-competitive special interests group monopolizing industry.

    The statehouse bill would apply to not only irresponsibleohio’s marijuana monopoly, but any other attempt to limit free-markets for emerging industries ie green energy, etc

    Ohio doesn’t want ResponsibleOhio’s investor monopoly, that’s the REAL story

  2. Mountzioncollective on

    Awesome news! Glad too see theirs at least a chance freedom will come to Ohio not in the form of a greed addicted select few!

  3. Eric on

    I had the pleasure of educating petitioners who were trying to collect signatures in my city. You wouldn’t believe the number of petitioners who never even read the bill. All they saw was legalization. But after giving them some facts I was able to change the mind of a few. This is NOT the way to legalization. I applaud law makers for trying to stop this monopoly.

  4. robert dakota on

    I am in favor of legalizing marijuana. But the proposed amendment would say, in Ohio if you have enough money you can buy a monopoly. Put no limit on the # of growers and let the market forces dictate, that is what capitalism is all about. Market driven force create a better product at an affordable price. Those who funded the initiative should be barred from the legal marijuana business altogether for no other reason than they were trying to buy there way into the marijuana business. They are no better than the illegal dealers just a better social standing.

  5. Mike on

    Im all for legalization however I hate the 10 facility monopoly plan! From what I read I can’t have my cake and eat it too! We are either stuck with this crazy monopoly, or have a pointless legalization because because a different amendment nullifies it! I’m so torn as which way to vote. I think I’ll be stuck voting for the best worst option! This is a prime example of how politics ans special interest groups are screwing this great country up.

  6. Jeff Brown on

    How about sending a couple million to help Florida pass their 2016 medical marijuana initiative. It would get these guys some positive publicity

  7. Lyle Courtsal on

    There were people who actually GAVE great pot away in the 60’s; oh the horror. Remember Dennis
    Peron, Tom Forcade, Violet Victoria: real freaks of nature. Hippies quit, get credit
    cards and mortgages, and become greedy, grouchy, and unfulfilled yuppies hating
    on people having more fun than they are, just like their parents. Lyle Courtsal

  8. Jay Czarkowski on

    Great news! The initiative put forth by “Responsible Ohio” is no way build an MJ industry, medical or otherwise. I look forward to receiving confirmation of its failure.

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