Marijuana Legalized in Ohio… Or Not

I’m penning this rant early on Sunday for High Times, since Monday I will be flying to Columbus, Ohio. There, I will be covering my fourth straight election since 2010 from a state that will be voting to legalize marijuana… or not.

Because that’s what’s happening tonight—Ohio is voting to legalize marijuana. Or it is voting to continue marijuana prohibition.

It is confusing in Ohio this year.

The legalization amendment (Issue 3) is equal to or superior to the legalization that currently exists in four states in every other regard, but it rewards the campaign investors with total control of the only 10 commercial grow lands encompassing about 13 million square feet. There’s an anti-monopoly amendment (Issue 2) on the ballot, too, and if both Issue 2 and Issue 3 pass, marijuana legalization will be tied up in the Ohio Supreme Court for some time.

I acknowledge how Issue 3 has divided the marijuana legalization movement to some extent.

Some of my best friends and most respectable colleagues hate this amendment and are voting against it. Regardless of how we feel about it, however, on November 4 we have to move forward as a national legalization movement, and no matter how you slice it, a loss in Ohio tonight makes our jobs harder.

If both measures pass, we—as a movement—could publicly celebrate the win for legalization, showing yet another statewide majority approves of taxing and regulating marijuana for adult personal consumption. Maybe the Ohio Supreme Court will decide in favor of legalization, marking the end of tickets and pot arrests.

Or, maybe the court will rule that the anti-monopoly amendment trumps the legalization amendment and that the tickets and arrests should continue. Still, we could hammer home the point that the majority supported legalization.

Maybe the legalization amendment wins and the anti-monopoly amendment fails.

Then we get the best outcome, public relations-wise, of showing a majority supports legalization and the tickets and arrests end without a protracted Supreme Court battle. Some of us might hate the wholesaling arrangement, but the mainstream public won’t care. They’ll just know that marijuana’s legal in Ohio and that the neighborhood pot shop is contributing tax revenue to the state.

But maybe the legalization amendment fails.

Maybe a majority votes against legalization, and our opponents tell the public there’s a new backlash against “Big Marijuana.” The idea of legalization inevitability becomes weakened going into 2016—with legalization already on the ballot in Nevada, and California, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan likely to be voting on the issue.

We’ll fight that meme, of course. The people didn’t reject legalization, we’ll say, they rejected this form of legalization that monopolized commercial growing.

That’s when our opponents will pivot and say, “Aha! See, it never was about ending so-called mass incarceration of marijuana smokers. You knew darn well Ohio was a state where carrying even 200 joints would only get someone a ticket and a fine. You opposed this legalization plan because you were cut out of the profits from the next Big Tobacco 2.0!”

That pivot will work even better if the legalization amendment fails and the anti-monopoly amendment succeeds. They’ll say see, it really isn’t about social justice or civil rights or criminal reform; it’s about how the money gets divided in the Big Marijuana green rush.

In other words, the failure of Ohio to legalize will trap us activists into a very difficult corner.

While we readers of High Times get into all the “inside baseball” details of growing and selling marijuana, to the rest of the political world, this is just a vote on whether marijuana should be legalized or not. The loss to them simply means that it was too much too soon to jump straight from illegal to legal without medical first, or that it was too much for a non-Western/non-New-England state to abide.

To battle that, we’ll have to get into the thickets of the economic reasons behind an Ohio failure, and then we’ll be forced to work in the frames of commerce and profit, when our natural frames are civil rights and criminal justice reform. Then, we’ll be open to the attacks from our opponents that legalization really isn’t about our original frames, but about the making of money.

And there, we’ll lose the moral high ground.

What a loss won’t do is send a message to the investor-driven marijuana legalizers that they should be more inclusive with the activist-driven marijuana legalizers.

Between the incessant trashing of their efforts leading up to the vote to what will surely be scapegoating of them for daring to try marijuana legalization the “wrong” way, what the investor class will learn from an Ohio loss is that the activist class is just another political obstruction to their success. They will also learn how to better disguise their regulatory capture of the marijuana industry for next time.

Tonight, marijuana smokers will be cheering in Ohio.

I just hope the cheers are coming from those who are happy that their criminality ended and not from those who are happy that a “monopoly” was defeated and the tickets and arrests continue tomorrow.

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