COLUMBUS, Ohio — Several statewide elected officials said Thursday they oppose a proposed ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana in Ohio and limit who could grow the plant.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine called legalizing marijuana “a stupid idea.” Secretary of State Jon Husted, who leads the panel that reviews proposed ballot language, said he hasn’t seen a worse idea than the plan announced last week by a group calling itself ResponsibleOhio.
The group has not yet released the actual language of its proposed constitutional amendment, slated for the November 2015 ballot. But supporters have said the plan would allow Ohioans with debilitating medical conditions and adults over age 21 to buy and use marijuana and limit growth of the crop to 10 specified locations available to people who invest in the amendment effort.
Auditor Dave Yost said ballot initiatives should not create constitutional monopolies.
“What will we have next, 12 monopolies for whorehouses in the 12 largest counties? It’s outrageous,” Yost said.
“I don’t see how any Ohioan could be in favor of creating a monopoly for a handful of people to make a bunch of money,” DeWine said, going on to say marijuana use poses safety risks for Ohio adults and children.
Husted said it was offensive to ask Ohioans to give a constitutional monopoly to the marijuana industry and he would “vigorously” ask voters to defeat it.
Republicans Husted, DeWine, Yost and Treasurer Josh Mandel voiced their opposition during a panel discussion Thursday morning sponsored by the Associated Press.
Mandel said businesses already have a difficult time finding qualified workers who can pass a drug test, and legalizing marijuana would not help.
Yost said “the world won’t end if marijuana is legalized,” but it’s premature in Ohio, as only a few other states have made the drug legal for personal use.
The ResponsibleOhio plan borrows a page from casinos, who successfully asked voters to legalize gambling at four casino sites specified in the Ohio Constitution. Yost said the Constitution should prevent monopolies and specialized interests from being created.
“It stands against everything that supposedly we have come to agreement on — that competition is good, that monopolies are bad,” Yost said. “We fought these fights over a hundred years ago and have policy.”
ResponsibleOhio spokeswoman Lydia Bolander said voters will decide whether to pass the amendment, not politicians.
“Let’s stop kidding ourselves: marijuana prohibition has failed,” Bolander said in a statement. “Ohioans are sick of wasting $120 million per year to enforce that failure and deny patients the medical marijuana that would ease their suffering.”
ResponsibleOhio has pushed back on claims the amendment would create a monopoly, noting that thousands of entrepreneurs could be licensed to make edible marijuana products or operate medical dispensaries and retail stores. The plan would tax marijuana at 15 percent from grower to manufacturer to retail store, with revenues funding public services in counties, townships and municipalities.
“ResponsibleOhio’s plan will create a tightly regulated, safe, open and transparent market, bringing much-needed revenue to our communities and creating thousands of jobs,” Bolander said.
Three other marijuana legalization proposals in the works would not limit growing to a set number of sites and would allow individual Ohioans to grow cannabis for personal use.