We are at the point in history where marijuana legalization is clearly foreseeable. I attended a forum in May 2014 on Marijuana Legalization sponsored by the Ohio Supreme Court. The focus was not on “if” or “when;” it was all about “how.”
That is the primary question facing us now. The purpose of this essay is to voice one possibility for “how.”
The first step is to realize that there are some fundamental facts. The most important is that marijuana is not deadly, addictive, or without medical use, as the Ohio government currently says it is.
There are a whole range of uses for marijuana (also known as cannabis or hemp). On one end of the spectrum are the nonconsumption industrial applications with the potential to fill in gaps of our industrial and farm economy. Textiles, plastics, fuel, and various oils are obvious uses of the plant. More interesting are the more advanced applications in energy storage, such as specially coated nanotubes and the various applications in manufacturing automobiles.
At the other end of the spectrum is human consumption. Human consumption has many forms like food, medicine (an area rich in potential therapeutic application) and, of course, smoking.
Opponents of legalization are correct in one respect. There will be large “big buds” companies that should grudgingly share the market with “small buds” (think Budweiser vs. microbreweries), hopefully ignoring the tiny amount of noncommercial home enthusiasts caring for their personal small garden. A visible legal company is a much better situation than a hidden underground criminal enterprise with no government controls.
The dividing line between the home grower and the “big buds/small buds” firms is that the home grower is not engaged in financial transactions. Consumers should have knowledge of the product they are purchasing with basic health and safety quality controls similar to commercially processed foods and beverages.
One word of caution concerns the edibles. I would insert a production delay until product contents, packaging, and labeling requirements are settled using experience and knowledge leveraged from other states that are further along on the legalization learning curve.
I suggest that the market be divided into at least three segments composed of producers, wholesale/processor/distributors, and retail operations. In between these segments are where government control, taxation mechanisms, and product quality would be ideally located.
Funds generated by taxes will be the subject of much discussion. The basic level of taxation should be targeted to eliminate or minimize the black market, and to generate enough funds for our drug issues such as the heroin problem, treatment, and mental health needs.
I would include a needs-based education grant system, as well as a source of much-needed funding for state and local governments.
Tax levels should vary based on the level of active content (using the beer-wine-whiskey analogy). Licensing fees should be tiered based on the size of the operation, along with local taxation and control that is subject to established zoning mechanisms. Financial transactions need to be transparent to eliminate black-market influences. The potential dangers on this path to re-legalization are greed and ego.
Adaptability is an important element in any law, especially in the case of marijuana re-legalization.
The Ohio Commission of Cannabis Control in the recent attempt to get medical marijuana ballot language before voters has merit but that ballot language has a critical flaw in who chooses the commission membership. A commission should represent a diversity of specialists with knowledge and experience and be free from the financial interests of those making the appointments.
A Lincolnesque team of rivals, with members chosen from and by organizations representing prosecutors, defense attorneys, farmers, industrial, law enforcement, civil rights, marijuana advocates, substance abuse and government representation, would be an ideal group to formulate the rules of the road for marijuana re-legalization.
Your own viewpoint may be different than stated above. This is where various views have to find common ground. Overall, I think a multifaceted market with government control that is free of black-market criminals and corruption is much better than the current environment.
But the future is certain; marijuana will be re-legalized, and it needs to be dealt with in a rational manner. Bringing an end to marijuana prohibition is the right thing to do, and the right thing to support.
Rob Ryan is the president of Ohio NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.