Investor-Driven Legalization: A Bitter Pill to Swallow

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel September 14, 2015

    NORML Endorses the Ohio Legalization Initiative

    The NORML board of directors voted to endorse Issue 3, the Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot on November 3rd. The proposal would end marijuana prohibition in Ohio, legalizing both medical and recreational use, so NORML’s endorsement came as no surprise.

    But our endorsement — made at a meeting recently in Portland, Ore. — came with a caveat: The board expressed concern over investor-driven initiatives where the investors will profit from the passage of the initiative. And because of that concern, the endorsement was less than unanimous; a couple of board members abstained, and one flatly opposed the endorsement, to register their displeasure with the self-enrichment aspects of the Ohio proposal.

    NORML is a single-issue, public-interest lobby. We focus on ending prohibition and the practice of treating marijuana smokers as criminals, and the establishment of a legally regulated market, so there was little doubt that we would endorse Issue 3 in Ohio once it had qualified for the ballot. But we also felt we should acknowledge that this specific version of legalization – in which the investors alone would control and profit from the 10 commercial cultivation and extraction centers (where marijuana-infused products would be produced) permitted under the proposal – is a perversion of the voter initiative process available in 24 states.

    Initiatives Intended to Benefit Ordinary Americans

    Voter initiatives and referenda are examples of direct democracy, as contrasted to representative democracy (policy decided by an elected legislature), procedures first adopted during the Progressive Era intended to eliminate corruption in government by taking down the powerful and corrupt political bosses and to provide access to ordinary Americans in the political system. Yet in this instance, the initiative process is being used to try to make the rich and powerful even more rich and more powerful.

    Using the cover of badly needed criminal justice reform, the investors, operating under the name of Responsible Ohio, are seeking what is clearly an unfair advantage in the “green rush” that is certain to follow marijuana legalization when it is adopted in Ohio. For these individuals, who have not previously been involved in the legalization movement, this exercise is only incidentally about ending prohibition and stopping the arrest of marijuana smokers; it is really about getting rich in a newly legal industry. Big money has now entered the picture, and this will not be the last time we have to deal with the issue of greed.

    It’s The Only Current Option in Ohio

    But currently Issue 3 is the only option available to stop the senseless and destructive practice of arresting marijuana smokers in Ohio. The state legislature is unwilling to seriously consider the merits of legalizing and regulating marijuana, despite polling showing a slim majority of Ohioans support full legalization. Each year nearly 20,000 Ohio residents are arrested on marijuana charges. That’s an enormous price to pay when we have the ability to end prohibition now, albeit with some undesirable provisions.

    So the NORML board felt obliged to hold our noses and endorse Issue 3 in Ohio. It was, as the saying goes, “a bitter pill to swallow,” and the board wanted to make it clear we do not consider the Ohio proposal the best model for other states to follow. There are far better ways to legalize marijuana.

    Most of us would prefer to keep the focus on protecting personal freedom and ending marijuana arrests. Greed is a common motivator in our free-market system, but it would be preferable to keep it out of our public policy debates.

    But in some states, where the elected officials are not responsive to the will of the voters, we may have to accept legalization that is profit-driven, as the most realistic way to end prohibition. That was the conclusion we reached regarding Ohio, and I believe it was the right decision.

    But it surely does feel like the loss of innocence.


    This column first appeared at Marijuana.com.



    31 responses to “Investor-Driven Legalization: A Bitter Pill to Swallow”

    1. Ohio I Am says:

      I agree, and since the governor and others in power here just unable to change their cruel vision of cannabis this is albeit a swing in the other direction. I will be voting for it with the hope of other state lawmakers getting the message. Thank You NORML for your existence.

    2. Jamie Lowell says:

      This is unfortunate- while the reasoning is coherent- it does not take into consideration the public consciousness and the ability to start with better policy in Ohio- by simply waiting a year. After decades of prohibition and the ability to finally step out of it- we have no real good reason to do so in a way that turns control of this new and dynamic industry- over to a handful of rich investors who know nothing about cannabis.

      This plan not only stymies the vast potential- right out of the gate- it will make it exceedingly difficult to replace with fair policy after it has taken hold.

      Shame on NORML for supporting this.

      [Editor’s note: If simply ‘waiting a year for better policy’ in OH was a better alternative NORML’s board would have opted for such, but cannabis activists in the state have had little-to-no-success politically organizing, let alone placing ballot measures before the voters. It is unlikely that grassroots efforts in OH next year would raise the needed funding and have consensus agreement among disparate parties to place a successful ballot measure before voters. Where have these efforts been in OH circa 1970? Is it reasonable to assume that ‘shocked’ by the audacity of political savvy capitalists in OH jumpstarting a moribund cannabis law reform effort in the state that grassroots activists in future are going to step up? Is there a precedent for such in any state regarding cannabis law reform? If you’re a wild-eyed idealist, the regrettable answer is ‘no’.

      Did in-state grassroots activists put up the funding and do the political strategy for any of the successful cannabis law reform movement victories circa 1996 that have helped move the country away from pot prohibition? No, instead it was billionaires who in fact didn’t know anything about cannabis…but, they instead chose to work with non-profit groups who know a lot about cannabis policy.

      Therein possibly lies the difference between previously successful cannabis reform initiatives and what could be a failure in OH (that the organizers of previous initiatives were motivated by civil justice not commercial self-interest).

      NORML’s board supports the passage of the current initiative in OH because it ends cannabis prohibition irrespective of initiative organizer’s motivation and believe that amending less-than-perfect cannabis laws post-prohibition is preferable to holding out hope for some ideal initiative to get funded/pass, or, whose organizer’s motivation are ‘more-pure-than-not’ in some people’s eyes.]

    3. rick says:

      i agree also but legalization is better than nothing besides we can grow our own and the collectives wont get my money the only part that bothers me is that the legislators came up with issue 2 to overide issue 3 and most ohioans dont understand that if issue 2 passes it will nullify issue3

    4. Voter initiatives — as a means of ending Cannabis prohibition — have been an effective diversion from the complete and immediate abolishment of one of the most disingenuous, immoral, illegal, persistent and destructive public policies in human history. Literally billions of people all over the world have been impacted by the US/UN imposed essential resource scarcity that has been inflicted on humanity over the past seventy-eight years.

      Cannabis is essential, not illegal. The myth of marijuana being a “Schedule One drug” is the most egregious fraud in human history. Since Cannabis is the ONLY crop that produces complete nutrition and sustainable biofuels from the same harvest, it is an essential crop for mankind’s existence on this planet. “Essential civilian demand” for a “strategic resource” (EO 13603, CFR 44) is the most time-efficient protocol for ending Cannabis prohibition at the federal level.

    5. Anonymous says:

      No worries, this is just version 1.0 of legalization in Ohio. Eventually, in later versions, justice and free market competition will prevail. Beggars can’t be choosers, and ResponsibleOhio deserves to reap reasonable rewards for its investment and efforts to repeal prohibition in Ohio, regardless of its motives. In the big picture, Ohio will get chalked up as one more state who legalized and that’s the most important thing. But, ResponsibleOhio, don’t expect your silly grow-your-own fee & license to be upheld for long, you have to lay off that crackpipe of greed. That provision is self-defeating because it makes you look like imperious assholes and you’re just inviting more people to knock you off your pedestal.

    6. Anonymous says:

      How childish. Buncha authoritarian leftist types against the profit bogeyman. Maybe they should move to Sweden where the police look for dopers among all those drunken vikings. Anything is better than prohibition. Many lefties are just closet authoritarians like this issue proves. Never vote for prohibition, even if the alternative clashes with your politricks.

    7. The aparent outsider says:

      Wether it’s racial inequality, medically, political, or investor driven, legalization is on the horizon. I personally could care less whom the media grants the title of achievement.

      Thoes involved in this battle know NORML deserves majority credit. I will support & salute anyone and everyone dedicated to ending this war on Marijuana.

      Go normal! !!!!

    8. NORML is doing a great job to bring marijuana market and the whole industry under control. Regulations are necessary and will cut the cash flow for many criminal organizations in Ohio and neighbor states. Businesses need get their hands on fair licensing process and regulations.

    9. James says:

      This is the world in which we live. To create large scale change which goes against big money (pharma and the black market), you have to create a counter position of big money or be crushed. The end result is fine, and honestly I just feel speed tracks an inevitable result as marijuana producers would consolidate, sell out, or be pushed out by Marlboro Weed anyway.

    10. Drew says:

      If this get MJ legalized, I am for it! Of course the cartel setup is not ideal, but that amounts to quibbling in my view. Thousands of Ohioans will be spared arrest, prosecution, jail time, and loss of employment opportunities. That is the most important thing.

      We can fix the monopoly later. In the meantime we get freedom.