Until voters see the specific wording of a potential ballot issue that would let Ohioans legally use marijuana for medicinal as well as recreational purposes — likely in January — bystanders should keep in mind the parable of the blind men and the elephant: Assorted details don’t necessarily offer a full picture.
Still, as the Northeast Ohio Media Group reported Dec. 18, the proposal, if final wording matches advance billing, could — distastefully — guarantee ten or so Ohio landholders, and any of their partners or others who might buy into the deal, a monopoly on legal production of marijuana.
That kind of constitutionally entrenched monopoly (as close to a license to print money as there can be) calls to mind Ohio’s 2009 casino amendment.
But at least the casino amendment, which specifies the precise sites where each of four Ohio casinos may operate and the level of investment required, reflects the fact that casinos aren’t an easy-access business. Marijuana growing is. So if the marijuana amendment arrives as advertised, it would be anticompetitive in the extreme (presuming it goes to Ohio voters and voters approve it, two big ifs).
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In theory, the great detail predicted for the marijuana measure’s wording could be aimed at keeping tight reins on legal marijuana production and the crop’s chemical characteristics. But such details are what the General Assembly – not Ohioans marking ballots in voting booths – are usually expected to determine. Law-writing at the ballot box can be perilous.
True, the Republican-ruled legislature is unlikely to touch marijuana legalization with a ten-foot pole, especially for recreational use. While Quinnipiac polling early this year suggested Ohioans widely support legalizing medicinal use of marijuana, it also suggested that only a bare majority supports legalizing recreational use.
Backers of the medicinal-and-recreational issue would have to gather almost 306,000 voters’ signatures for it to reach the ballot. It’s unclear whether an unrelated marijuana issue, to legalize medicinal use only, is still seeking signatures.
The critical question for both issues is whether the assumption they share – that most Ohioans want to make significant changes in marijuana law – is valid. But even if it is a valid assumption, creating an anticompetitive constitutional monopoly aimed at enriching a tiny number of landowners seems like the exact wrong way to go about any conceivable legalization.
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