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Sorting Through The Marijuana Mess In Ohio


Responsible Ohio LogoBy Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel

If anyone would have suggested a year ago that Ohio might be on the verge of legalizing marijuana in 2015, I would have laughed at the idea.

First, Ohio is a conservative Midwestern state that is seldom, if ever, on the cutting edge on social issues. And second, 2015 is an off-year election, with no statewide or federal elections, meaning the voter turn-out would be lower and the likely voters would be older and less supportive than would be the case if the proposal were on the ballot in 2016, a presidential election year when younger voters turn out in far higher numbers.

But it turns out that Ohio voters may well be voting on marijuana legalization this November. And the circumstances surrounding this development raise new issues that legalization activists are struggling to deal with. The proposed constitutional amendment, called the Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative, sponsored by a group calling itself Responsible Ohio, would legalize both the medical and the recreational use of marijuana.

We have a scarcity of polling data that would indicate whether the voters in Ohio currently support marijuana legalization. A Quinnipiac University poll taken in 2014 found strong support for medical marijuana, and an almost even split (51 percent support) over full legalization. One can presume the sponsors of this initiative must have done their own private polling, but if so, they have not shared the results.

Investor Driven Voter Initiatives

But what is unique about this effort is that it is being funded by a few rich private investors who, under the terms of the proposed initiative, would then own the 10 specific cultivation centers around the state authorized to cultivate marijuana commercially. In other words, those investors who provide the funding to gather the required number of signatures, and to run a professional statewide campaign, would be richly rewarded for their investment, assuming the initiative is approved by a majority of the voters.

Individuals would be permitted to cultivate up to four marijuana plants privately, and retail dispensary licenses would be open for all to apply for licenses, but the commercial cultivation would be limited to what the Rand Corporation has described as a “structured oligopoly.”

As might be expected, this proposal, which would enshrine this special privilege for these investors in the state constitution, has met with some cries of outrage from some in the Buckeye state, both legalization activists and the state legislature.

Some activists have raised objections to the proposal because it would not permit average Ohioans to compete for the commercial cultivation licenses, although ordinary citizens would be entitled to apply for licenses for the more than 1,000 retail dispensaries that would be authorized, claiming it is undemocratic. Some opponents have even argued it would be worse than the current prohibition — despite the fact that roughly 17,000 marijuana arrests occur each year in Ohio, and those arrests would largely be eliminated if this initiative were to pass.

The Legislature Inserts Itself In The Fight

But the situation in Ohio has become even more confusing because of the action of the Ohio legislature, in response to the filing of the Responsible Ohio initiative. The legislature has elected to use an option available to them (they are permitted this option by their state constitution, without the need to collect signatures) of adding a second voter initiative to the ballot this November that, if approved by the voters, they believe would render the Responsible Ohio proposal invalid. The proposal would ban the adoption by voter initiative of attempts to benefit select economic interest groups.

The sponsor of this initiative, Democratic House member Mike Curtin, said he sponsored what he called his “anti-monoply” measue, not because he opposes the legalization of marijuana, but because he opposed the way Responsible Ohio is using the ballot measure to enrich themselves.

What If Both Initiatives Are Approved

Should the Responsible Ohio initiative be approved for the ballot, which is not yet certain (they recently turned in 695,273 signatures, more than double the 305,591 signatures required; but the Secretary of State’s office determined that only 42 percent of those were valid signatures, an unheard of failure rate, leaving them 29,509 signatures short, and 10 days to make-up the deficit), then the confusion really kicks-in.

Ohio law appears to say if the two initiatives both pass, then the one with the highest number of votes would become effective. But Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican who opposed legalization, has announced his opinion that should the legislative proposal pass, it would take effect 30 days earlier than the citizen initiative, and would thus block the other proposal from taking effect. The only certainty is that should both initiatives pass, and the citizen initiative receive the higher total of votes, this is an issue that will eventually be decided in the Ohio courts.


So the question becomes whether groups such as NORML should get involved in the fight over who gets rich off the legalization of marijuana, or whether we should continue to focus on ending the practice of treating marijuana smokers like criminals, and the establishment of a legally controlled market where consumers can buy their marijuana in a safe and secure environment, and leave these economic fights to others. At the national level, this seems like an easy decision.

Some people get rich off of marijuana legalization, wherever it is adopted. There are scores of successful entrepreneurs who have surfaced in Colorado and Washington, and who are beginning to surface in Oregon and Alaska, creating new businesses and new jobs, and sometimes getting rich in the process. The phenomenon is know as the “Green Rush.” So we should not act shocked to learn that someone is going to get rich off marijuana legalization in Ohio, should it occur.

Nor should opponents act so offended by the fact that average citizens in Ohio do not have the resources to be part of those investors who would control the commercial cultivation licenses. In many of the states that have legalized marijuana for medical use, for example, the licenses to cultivate or dispense the marijuana have been quite limited, and enormously expensive.

In Massachusetts, for example, those seeking a license to commercially cultivate marijuana were required to put $500,000 in escrow before their application would even be reviewed. And in Florida, where a medical marijuana bill was approved permitting only low-THC, high CBD marijuana, applicants for one of only five licenses for a cultivation center were required to post a $5 million performance bond and pay a $100,000 non-refundable application fee, and demonstrate they have been in the nursery business in Florida for a minimum of 30 years. Few average citizens in either state would have the ability to participate in the profitable legal marijuana market, yet we did not hear a lot of protest from citizens in either state.

Further, most states that have legalized marijuana for either medical use or for everyone have established caps on the number of licenses for producers and distributors. These caps vary widely from state to state and market to market, with some states limiting the number of producers to no more than two (Minnesota) or three (Delaware).

So there is really nothing unique about the Ohio proposal, other than it is being funded by the very people who will benefit from its passage, instead of by billionaire philanthropists. But the bottom line is that someone gets rich off legalization, regardless of how it is funded, or structured.

At NORML, we recognize there are many inequities in the free market system, with an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us. But NORML is not an organization established to deal with income inequality; we are a lobby for responsible marijuana smokers. So we will leave other issues, including income inequality, to other organizations who focus on those issues, and we will continue to focus on legalizing marijuana.

And if the investor driven legalization initiative in Ohio qualifies for the ballot, national NORML will almost certainly support it. And we hope, so will a majority of the voters in Ohio.

Source: NORML - make a donation


About Author

Johnny Green


  1. good things come to those who wait.

    If you want up to the minute news on OTEP visit their Facebook page. Calls to volunteers and event listings

  2. If you’re in the streets and at the events getting signatures, that’s excellent. Enough Ohioans do that and they won’t need RO, they’ll have a better alternative just 1 year later.

    I do note that you haven’t addressed the questions JohnB raised about OTEP in the first paragraph of his post just below.

  3. tough tits i say. acutaly im in the streets and at the events collecting petitions. meanwhile, you sit and wait for millionaires to pay the poor to schlep clipboards all over your state.

  4. You volunteer “for the free market”? Does that mean you grow for the black market and charge whatever price the market will bear? Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not volunteer work, it’s risky but well paid work. Or are you referring to your anti-RO posts as your day and night volunteering? RO is what you’re against, but what are you for?
    I don’t live in Ohio. I live in a state that doesn’t have citizen initiatives.

  5. buddy i volunteer day and night for the free market. u volunteering for OTEP? i’ve been doing my part

  6. In other words, you’re not working for OTEP. Get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand. And mind your stinking manners.

  7. Then why hasn’t their web page been updated in an internet eternity? Why can’t someone go there to find out where to sign a petition? Why can’t someone go there to find out what festivals they will be attending? Why can’t someone go there to find out how many signature gatherers they have? Why can’t someone go there to find out how many signatures they have already gathered in the month since they got approval?
    It’s only the hottest political topic in Ohio right now.
    If they aren’t organized or funded enough to take advantage of that, then why should anyone wait for them to magically get it together next year?

    By the way, as usual, I notice your reply didn’t include any answer to a direct and straightforward question that was politely asked.
    It’s easy to be against something, Red; tell us what you’re FOR, and what you, personally, are doing about it.

  8. If you want to be one of the RO investors, they won’t turn your money down.
    You better be able to bring it though; this ain’t no penny stock.

  9. Exactly! Those saying “wait for a better initiative” can never tell us what that initiative is, or how far along it is, or how much money it has, etc…
    OTEP looks great on paper, but as long as its ostensible leader thinks there should BE no leader (the “snowflake model,” in his words), then they are doomed to repeat the kind of organizational dysfunction that has caused every other effort in Ohio to fail.

  10. “Legislation designed to exclude those that have been involved in the industry prior to its passing should disgust you sir.”
    And there you have the heart of your opposition; sour grapes.
    Grassroots efforts have failed time and again in Ohio. And now you’re mad because the people who might actually get it done are business people, and not “freedom fighters?”
    Get over yourself.
    In the end, nationwide legalization will come about via commercialization.
    It’s just a business, like any other business, and it is profit-driven, like any other business.
    Ultimately, it will be the profit motive that gets cannabis legalized nationwide, so instead of griping about it, why not embrace it?
    At least it gets the job done.

  11. J C Uncapher on

    “hundreds of thousands, even millions, of different suppliers competing to sell the big brands their source materials”

    your comment is a complete load of crap. not one of the oligopolies that I mentioned has anywhere near that many suppliers, that is a ridiculous statement on your part Bob

    I stated actual facts and you come in and just spout off a complete load of crap that is no where close to being truthful

    I could go into great detail on how your statement is ludicrous, but I know it would just be a complete waste of my time and it would fall on deaf ears

    your obviously a troll just like your buddy “Ohio Voter”

    hey, but really nice try though BOB

    ***did you ever notice how trolls and a$$hole’s don’t use a real name when they post on any of these sites!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. J C Uncapher on

    Von, I’m a pro legalization supporter as well, I just don’t like the way that RO’s plan is set up, its basically a legalized CARTEL run by the wealthy investors who will control the market… regardless, I hope it makes the ballot and passes, and we can work on changing it later on down the road

  13. J C Uncapher on

    “you’ll see hundreds of thousands, even millions, of different suppliers competing to sell the big brands their source materials”

    complete and utter bullshit BOB

    I could explain why your statement is a load of crap, but it would be a complete waste of my time

    nice try though…

  14. eat my *ss sh*ll. RO isn’t two steps in the grave. OTEP has the time, and funds to make the 2016 w/o all the controversy behind RO’s greed driven sh*t show

  15. Is it consumers saying no to RO or is it growers, and their allies, who would be shut out of the legal market?
    Certainly the consumers who would be allowed to grow their own, or find a friend to grow for them will be much better off if RO passes, it will be a new world for them. Consumers of medicinal marijuana have a lot to gain too, they won’t have to buy unknown product from the black market, which many people won’t or can’t do, and they are granted recognition and preferred status for pricing.
    This won’t destroy the black market, it will give them competition. Bad for black market growers, but good for consumers, seems to me.

    National NORML would support a better initiative if one was in sight, but so far the weeks are going by and OTEP is not showing political muscle.

  16. While I’m a pro legalization supporter that’s a very interesting open minded look at this ballot measure.

  17. Check out the suppliers of the raw materials of the “oligopolies” you mention, and you’ll see hundreds of thousands, even millions, of different suppliers competing to sell the big brands their source materials. Also, each industry and brand you mentioned is traded on an open exchange, giving everyone who wants to participate in the benefits of that industry a chance to participate. Nice try though…

  18. At what point does being a “advocate for the consumer” not include the demands of that consumer base Keith?

    This is not solely about who finances what and who gets rich off of what, this is about laws. Laws that are NOT designed to offer the consumer what your mission statement claims you seek sir. “affordable” ?! Since when has a monopoly such as that proposed in Ohio and other states benefited the consumer at the cash register?! Open markets cause price wars and that lowers prices for consumers. The opposite of what will occur in Ohio.
    “safe” since when have large indoor commercial grows ever been considered safe? Pesticide use, mold, mildew, excessive growth inhibitors all become prevalent problems in large commercial facilities.

    What NORML, and it’s legal team, should be focusing on is protecting the consumer by educating them and standing side by side with them against legislation that could potentially harm them.
    Ohio, Florida and Arizona all have the same thing in common right now. They face legislation designed to benefit only the businesses that sponsor it. Not the consumer, they are an obvious afterthought. So much so the word “legalization” isn’t used in the initiative, only on the campaign trail.

    Legislation designed to exclude those that have been involved in the industry prior to its passing should disgust you sir.

    It’s not only a slap in the face of every single norml member across the nation that has stood up and fought back against these initiatives trying to protect their medicine, their livelihoods, and their participation in a legal industry after having been involved in the illegal version for years.

    It’s also a slap to your mission statement and everyone that stands by it out here in the streets.

    Sad sad day when such a long time and extremely vocal group of the best legal marijuana minds in the country gives in and says the end justifies the means, regardless of the path and the inevitable long term damage to the consumer.

    Sad day indeed. If norml supports these types of initiatives, I as a consumer, can no longer support norml, as I feel they have failed their mission statement and no longer advocate on behalf of the consumer.

  19. How’s that OTEP alternative doing, Ohio Voter? Are they going to be able to make the 2016 ballot and have money left for a campaign? Are any of the Ohio voters opposing RO on this site working to make OTEP a reality?

  20. J C Uncapher on

    I am not a supporter of the way the RO amendment is written, but I believe in stating the actual facts so people can decide for themselves over using fear tactics to trick people into voting one way or another

    so here’s my two cents worth on this highly controversial situation and you can take it or leave it… I have actually read the RO amendment (more than once) and I will openly agree that it is not as good as other proposals out there, with that being said, it is a lot better than some of the other medicinal and recreationally legalized state amendments that I have read… but that is not an endorsement for this amendment, it is just me stating the simple facts

    my biggest complaint about the RO amendment is that they had the audacity to actually write an Oligopoly (Legalized Cartel) into the amendment, which puts the controlling power into the hands of the investors who will ultimately receive one of the 10 (only 10) legal grow sites in Ohio

    I have heard the word monopoly used in an incorrect manner to describe RO’s amendment, I say incorrectly because this initiative is actually an Oligopoly, or what I personally like to refer to as a Legalized Cartel run by the wealthy investors of this initiative, who will obviously be able to control the market

    Oligopoly – ol•i•gop•o•ly -ˌäləˈɡäpəlē/ noun
    a state of limited competition, in which a market is shared by a small number of producers or sellers.

    Cartel – car•tel – kärˈtel/ noun
    an association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition.

    Let’s think about this for a moment… the Tabaco industry is an Oligopoly, the alcohol industry is an Oligopoly, the cellular phone/wireless communication industry is an Oligopoly, the automotive industry is an Oligopoly, the cable television services industry is an Oligopoly, the airline industry is an Oligopoly, the mass media industry is an Oligopoly, the pharmaceutical industry is an Oligopoly, the banking industry is an Oligopoly, the computer and software industry is an Oligopoly, the smart phone and computer operating system industry is an Oligopoly, the aluminum industry is an Oligopoly, the steel industry is an Oligopoly, the oil and gas industry is an Oligopoly, the entertainment industry (music and film) is an Oligopoly… are you starting to get the picture yet or do I need to continue stating the FACTS about how our world actually works!!!

    so you don’t believe what I just stated, you say you need proof, well here it is folks, actual proof

    National mass media and news outlets are a prime example of an oligopoly, with 90% of U.S. media outlets owned by six corporations: Walt Disney, Time Warner, CBS Corporation, Viacom, NBC Universal and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

    Operating systems for smartphones and computers provide excellent current examples of oligopolies. Apple iOS and Google Android dominate smartphone operating systems, while computer operating systems are overshadowed by Apple and Windows.

    The auto industry is another example of an oligopoly, with the leading auto manufacturers in the United States being Ford, GM and Chrysler.

    While there are smaller cell phone service providers, the providers that tend to dominate the industry are Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile.

    The music entertainment industry is dominated by Universal Music Group, Sony, BMG, Warner and EMI Group.

    Gasoline stations in the United States are as follow: Amoco. ARCO, BP, Chevron, Citgo, Conoco, Exxon, Gulf, Hess, Marathon Oil, Mobil, Phillips 66, Shell, 76, Sunoco, and Texaco… the stations like Sheetz, Speedway, and Circle K all get their gas from a major distributor that owns one or more of the other major gas brands.

    however, named brand gas stations in Ohio are dominated by BP, Marathon, Mobile, Shell, and Sunoco

    Natural Gas is actually defined by each individual state, in Ohio it is as follows: Direct Energy, East Ohio Gas, Duke Energy, NiSource, and Dominion

    let’s face it, I could keep going on, but I am sure everybody has already got the big picture by now, and for those of you who haven’t gotten it yet… well let’s just say you haven’t got a clue about how the world actually works

    do I like the RO amendment, no… is it the worst one I have ever come across, no… are there better proposals out there in Ohio, absolutely… are there better proposals that actually stand a chance at getting on the ballot… past experiences say NO!!!

    over the past several years I have witnessed time and time again, various groups that I will not name, try to get and amendment on the ballot and each and every time I have seen them fail miserably at the task with barely 150,000 signatures time and time again… I hear people say wait until next year and vote for OTEP… seriously, just what makes you think that OTEP will get the required signatures by the deadline next year when others have failed to do it in all the previous years that it has been attempted?

    OTEP has just under 4300 likes on its Facebook page, which is not a lot of people following this group

    ResponsibleOhio has well over 33.000 likes and has managed to turn in just under 700,000 signatures this year… they also have money set aside for the promoting and advertising of the initiative which will probably be done in the weeks prior to the actual voting date here, and this campaign will target millions of people here in Ohio

    face the facts people, without the money needed to fund the initiative you just can’t do it… if it could be done on a volunteer basis it would have already been done years ago, end of story!!!

    the momentum on the RO initiative is greater than any previous attempts from any other initiative in the past, EVER!!!

    most of the people I have argued with about how shitty the RO amendment really is, only cared about one thing, legalizing marijuana!!! they didn’t care about the fact that it would put all the control into the hands of a few select wealthy individuals, they didn’t care that you

    can only grow 4 plants, they didn’t care about anything other than just getting marijuana legalized here in Ohio, PERIOD!!!
    like it or not, the RO amendment will most likely pass this year, and for those of us ( yes I said us, because I am one of you) who really don’t care for everything that it stands for… we will just have to fight hard to change this amendment to better fit what we really need here in OHIO!!!

  21. Hows that dispensary coming John?

    Have you found a perspective location?

    Tell the viewers how you’re supporting ResponsibleOhio because you want a store, you’ve stated it many times

  22. Jesus malverde on

    red made more points in his discussing then u are making with one question y don’t you try and look into what he said maybe you will understand how much more negatives out weigh the positives but u won’t because how you like to assume I assume you are and android a robot a puppet who assimilated so your comment is redundant but hey for all I know u get paid to make your opposing arguments #NoEconomywithMonoply’s

  23. Hey Red, instead of creating a list of peripheral items that were NOT included in the article you presumably just read, how about responding to the points that actually ARE in it?

  24. PhDScientist on

    We need action taken at the federal level now. This year 1.6 MILLION Americans will be diagnosed with Cancer. Every single one of them deserves the right to have safe, legal, access to Medical Marijuana.
    So does every American kid (or kid anywhere) who has Dravet’s or any other Seizure disorder for whom Medical Marijuana is a life-saving medication. So does every American Veteran with PTSD for whom Medical Marijuana is the only medication that relieves their suffering and makes life tolerable. So does every American with severe chronic pain.
    In 27 states, Americans who need Medical Marijuana wind up having to buy it on the “black market”
    That’s NUTS.
    This is AMERICA. Not the old Soviet Union.
    American’s who need medication shouldn’t have to buy it on the black market.

  25. Seeing as how Keith Stroup WILL NOT publish ANY criticism of his position in the NORML blog comment section , I will try here.

    Keith fails to acknowledge all other efforts to to legalize Ohio in a more sensible way, he also fails to mention that ResponsibleOhio DOES NOT allow for caretaker grows for the Sick or legalize industrial hemp. Or the fact that Ohio is one of the largest farming states in the US. Nor does he mention that ResponsibleOhio keeps intact 95% of felonies related to cultivation & distribution.

    The fact is; ResponsibleOhio encourages the black market by barring all those who have risked their lives and lived in the shadows hoping to one day participate in a sensible, regulated industry. While this is economically foolish, ResponsibleOhio’s closed market creates a new class of criminals, while ResponsibleOhio investors will be legally growing, selling, & banking billions of dollars.

    What are the implications of investor monopolies profiteering from prohibition 2.0? What are the implications of Ohioans giving these investors the green light to try this in other states?

    When we the people truly be FREE of persecution from growing, selling, and consuming marijuana? It certainly wont be the case under repressive monoply/oligopoly systems designed to enrich only the highest bidders.

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