Next week could herald the beginning of legal marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use in Ohio. Voters will decide on the Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative during Tuesday’s general election.
The initiative, denoted as Issue 3 on the Ohio ballot, would put in place an amendment to the Ohio constitution, directly changing state law to allow for the legal production, sale, possession and use of marijuana.
“Legalization, I’ve come to understand, touches so many facets of our lives,” said Cassie Young, a graduate student studying social work and public affairs and president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at Ohio State. “The fact that (illicit substances) are illegal today harms all of us. It criminalizes behavior that should not be criminalized.”
The ResponsibleOhio measure is controversial both in terms of the larger national debate surrounding legalization and in the context of the economic and structural policy it promotes. The ballot initiative has to compete for more than simple legalization votes, however, because of an adversarial campaign for legal marijuana called Legalize Ohio 2016, which is petitioning for a spot on the ballot in the 2016 general election.
Advocates from the two different Ohio organizations promoting marijuana legalization campaigns visited the Ohio Union on Sunday to discuss and debate both policies, and there has been a continual presence of activists on campus this semester.
Michael McGovern, a representative from ResponsibleOhio, coordinates the campaign’s bus tours, which have stopped at the Columbus campus multiple times this semester to campaign, register students to vote and show off their marijuana mascot, “Buddie.”
“I think a lot of students realize it’s really been a failed prohibition,” McGovern said. “They realize marijuana is something that really shouldn’t be illegal and that there’s a ton of benefits from legalizing it: all the jobs in the community, tax revenue, the medicinal benefits and just not sending people to jail anymore.”
Proponents of the ResponsibleOhio amendment argue that the policy would provide benefits such as legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, heavily reduced sentencing of marijuana-related offenses — such as possession and production — and the creation of a national precedent for other states to follow.
“Yes on (Issue 3) this year in Ohio sets the stage for a national cascade,” said Brice Keller, founder of GreenFight, an organization paired with ResponsibleOhio’s campaign.
Of particular note to opponents, however, was the issue of free market economy with regard to the method of commercialization pursued by ResponsibleOhio’s Issue 3 amendment. Legalize Ohio and other Issue 3 opponents have argued the amendment creates an intentional monopoly on production. According to ResponsibleOhio’s website, the amendment would establish an initial 10 “wholesale grow facilities” for commercial purposes.
Opponents of ResponsibleOhio argue that this limits the potential level of public engagement in the industry of producing wholesale marijuana and fails to adequately ensure competition.
Nicholas Neely, a fourth-year in business sustainability and president of the Cannabis Coalition at OSU, said, “The reason people will vote against Issue 3 is the monopoly structure of the policy.”
The Legalize Ohio 2016 campaign argues that it’s well worth the wait to amend the state constitution in a much different way.
“Whether it’s Legalize Ohio 2016 or another group, legalization is going to be on the ballot again,” said Jacob Wagner, vice president and co-founder of Legalize Ohio 2016. Wagner graduated from Ohio State in 2009 prior to attending law school and is the author of Legalize Ohio 2016’s proposed amendment. “We don’t have to settle for bad policy. Whether you support Legalize 2016 or not, you can wait for something better.”
For Young, the Legalize Ohio campaign is the clear choice, citing perceived problems with the ResponsibleOhio initiative.
“Personally I am 100 percent opposed to Issue 3,” Young said. “I’m training to be a social worker, and I’m also in school for public affairs and from both of those angles, especially those of economic and social justice, I don’t see it being good for Ohio. Not only in the context of the cannabis market, but also in the context of the concentration of wealth and influence of money on politics.”
Still, proponents of the 2015 measure argue that passing a legalization amendment now is worth it for the benefit of those who need it most, even if progress is incremental in nature.
“So, these 10 investment groups, and a collection of hundreds of employees, and volunteers, and activists have contributed to this effort to bring you the opportunity to deliver not guilty verdicts to the people at the ballot box, right now,” Keller said.
McGovern said he wasn’t even keeping future policies on his mind.
“We’re really focused on this, this year,” McGovern said on Monday. “This is the first time (legalization) has ever been on the ballot, so we’re really just focused on the next eight days. We’ve just seen so much excitement, especially on college campuses, to push it through this year instead of trying to wait.”