Investor-Driven Legalization: A Bitter Pill to Swallow

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


31 thoughts

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  11. its better than no legalization at all only thing worrisome is thst if issue 2 which was snuck in by thelegislators passes it will void out issue 3

  12. Don’t worry Keith, Responsible Ohio is advocating a bitter plant strain of legislation to swallow, not a pill; A plant that is cloned, hybridized, planted and seeded more and more every day. The beauty of “Big Marijuana,” by any oligarch’s definition, is that the synergy or “entourage effect” of whole plant medicine negates the mere licensing or patentability of the single-molecule pill-for-profit formula. There’s chemicals being legalized in Ohio that defy the principle of oligarchy by nature. And for that, we can thank our ancestors and the cannabis plant itself,

  13. Of course this is not a perfect amendment but as an Ohioan I’m excited to end prohibition. This amendment allows home grow and will allow over 1,100 marijuana stores. I simply want a safe environment to buy cannabis products. I also want cannabis to be available to patients and I certainly don’t want any more people to get arrested for this plant. Let’s legalize and end prohibition.

  14. I wonder if any of those now poised to make huge profits have previously invested in private prisons that are largely inhabited by peaceful cannabis users… It’s all about money to them regardless if someone, besides themselves, gets hurt.

    Still, I’d rather pay into their fortune than spend time in one of their prisons.

    A bitter pill indeed!

    I think we all have to realize that we live in a very imperfect world and that compromise will “probably” always be necessary in most of our decisions.

  15. When one greedy lobbyist wants to corner the market in one state you do leave little room for creativity in this evolving market. Lets face it the roadmap is clear our politicians respond to money not logic. That is why K STREET exist. So like a parasite we must attach our selves to this greedy group and go for the ride. One thing I notice is politicians no longer recognize MONOPOLY LAWS. They have been replaced with too big to fail companies that can fail. I like voter initiatives more than restrictive and misguided legislative drafts that are suppressive.

  16. I agree it’s about social justice, insofar as it’s about ending marijuana arrests, and that it’s not about (or shouldn’t be about) profit. But this was how we knew we would be there, when big business had commercialized cannabis; remember the parody artwork of Marlboro brand “joints” in a green box instead of red? And all the parody products like “Pot Tarts” that actually came true in Denver? (They quit doing it, Hershey’s sued some cannabis producers over copyright infringement or something.) So, loss of innocence, yes… but who do we hurt by going with the thing: Other greedy investors who couldn’t get in on the goodies? If that’s all anybody gets hurt, I’ll trade that in exchange for stopping marijuana arrests.

  17. Thank you for this endorsement: It is absolutely the right thing to do. Now that you have expressed your opinion on the economic concerns (which are not part of the NORML mission and not why I donate money to your efforts), please leverage your brand recognition and influence to provide more enthusiastic encouragement for the voters of Ohio to support this initiative. The pluses far outweigh the minuses, most notably the ability of individuals to grow their own for personal use. Your team of excellent writers and media personalities should not allow the conversation to be sidetracked by the investor problem, especially since all legalized states limit who is allowed to commercially grow in some fashion. Instead, attack the Ohio legislature for not responding to data or the will of the people and for using the dirty trick of putting Issue 2 on the ballot at the same time, which attempts to thwart Issue 3 and will definitely result in a long and expensive court battle. This can become a blessing to NORML’s long term strategic vision for national repeal of prohibition, as Ohio’s contentious fight to legalize will certainly win national media center-stage alongside the Presidential campaigns during the coming months. This is a chance to elevate the national debate in which no doubt NORML will be called on for commentary. It is in your interest now to accentuate the many positive aspects of legalization in Ohio for your own greater goal. After all, if national legalization is achieved, Granholm v. Heald, 544 U.S. 460 (2005) will very likely make the downsides of Issue 2 in Ohio irrelevant. Full disclosure: I have been an Ohio resident for 8 years. I do not like it here and I had plans to leave during the summer, but I have extended my stay long enough to vote specifically on this issue. I have no connections with RO, nor any personal gain from this initiative. Like NORML, my overriding interest is in national repeal of prohibition. Ohio will be a major victory in that struggle.

  18. *Correction: After all, if national legalization is achieved, Granholm v. Heald, 544 U.S. 460 (2005) will very likely make the downsides of Issue 3 in Ohio irrelevant.

  19. I actually gave up Marijuana five years ago. Not because I didn’t like it, or because I got in trouble. I gave it up because it was inconvenient. In fact in my early twenties I smoked quite a bit. I would say more then the average, evened ventured into edibles (“Cookie and a Beer anyone”)? That had to be one of the best pregames to chipping golf balls in the backyard, working on landscaping, getting ready to watch a good sports match, music, gaming etc.

    Anyways I decided to give it up. The reason was not because I didn’t like the effects. In fact I had some of the best times with or without “simply magic”. The reason I stopped was because, I got tired of chasing it around. You end up in awkward situations with people you don’t really know. Either in the middle of the city or in the middle of nowhere, just because you want to smoke. They can tell you, they will have it for you in an hour, and then never answer your call. Or you could end up running from place to place and eventually you get it, but it sucks. This is one of the many situations you can get in when looking for it on the street (smoke and drive, hotbox, you get shorted etc).

    These are all things that just got annoying to me. Now some people might say “yo man you just need a better connect” but I had that too. At one point I used to get my green for free. However even if your connection is smooth, then you got to worry about the law. Which most of them could care less about marijuana, but you never know who that one guy with them is going to act. Two officers on the scene could be like “hey lets move on to something more serious” but that one colleague they don’t really like could be like “hey! lets get this criminal! He has .07 grams on him! take him out he is evil! I’m going on record with everything! Were live now!”. So now they got to do their job and fill out the paper work. Even though they know it sucks and theirs real criminals to go after. However weed is illegal so who are they to tell that one cop they never worked with before to fu#k off? I’ve actually seen this first person style as a citizen, and it sucks. Especially when you know the person that’s getting arrested is really a good dude.

    So right now it seems, that Ohio is going to legalize marijuana. This is something I suggested to my friends like 10 years ago. Even when I was 18/19 I figured out that marijuana should be legal. So I don’t get what the problem is now.

    From my understanding of the Bill/Amendment/Issue whatever you want to call it.

    1. You can Legally posses marijuana. So no more worrying about the smell. By the way I don’t care about the amount. I’ve seen it all bad for .07 grams, so as long as its better then that I’m good. An Ounce Is good enough for me. One Summer in my twenties and ounce lasted me five months making edibles and all.

    2. Whenever I want to. I can go to the store and Buy it. I don’t have to call or text “John Doe” then wait and see if its cool to make a quick pick. Nor do I feel like I got to smoke with people I really don’t want to. When all I really want to do is just Roll a Sweet, chill out and watch my fantasy league, game, with Beers and drinks of choice on Deck, and maybe Text.

    3. You can grow up to four plants per person, and the means usable plus you can “gift”. Take it however you want it, but if I’m a grower that means opportunity. Even If I’m not one of the 10 I’m going to find a way to network. First I don’t got to worry about the smell. 50 bucks per license per person “you want that in ones?” “Cannabis Clubs anyone”? Right now it’s illegal, one plant is all bad. With this Bill I don’t have to worry about random people just knocking on the door. So to all the those that worry about search. Keep your stuff cool, no loud parties, don’t piss the neighbors off and gift and sift.. no one will come count your plants. Oh by the way once this gets passed, they are saying retail stores wont be available till like March 2016. So make some cash supplying the demand until then. It is what is, but you have more room when its legal vs illegal.

    4. Medical patients gets access to their medicine. So instead of taking pills in amounts of hills. They have the option to toke because of this bill. Freely and protected. Now as far as the amount. Lets talk about whats allowed right now…how much can a medical patient legally possess right now?

    5. Jobs and Revenue indirectly created off this proposal. How many companies are going to need soil,equipment,office personal,labor etc to supply this demand.

    So now that I have went through the Bill myself, I am actually going to vote Yes on Issue 3. No on two. For all the people who say wait till 2016, well then you should have the patience to wait however long it takes to get your stuff through too. I’m not going to be all angry for no reason when right now I can’t even have and 1/8 of marijuana legally. I would rather wait while its Legal. Go to the store pick up and ounce and 12 pack. Come home and be like..pass puff sip…”well Johnny Doe farms should be able to sell pot too”. I’ll take that stance when its Legal.

    I’m Yes on 3

  20. Norml, All this is, is another example of how American’s no longer own their own government.

    The State Fucking Legislature doesn’t do the people’s will. And so we’re left supporting a piece of shit law. This is a perfect example of how our system is breaking down and for no good reason. Democrats and Republicans fighting over stupid shit while their people get fleeced by special interests is what is happening in all 45 states that can’t even consider legalizing marijuana in a legal way. Setting up Oligarchies is not the purpose of any American Constitutions–as the law doesn’t serve the people.

    The “best we can do” is screw Ohio with halfwit legalization. It is best Democrats and Republicans can do. Keep voting for them.

  21. Of course, if we had the oportunity to vote on this in my state, I would vote for it just to stick it to our prohibitionist general assembly in a heartbeat.

    yes on 3
    no on 2

    Go Ohio!

  22. The problem that I have with this is that I new and said this would happen. For a while we had enough signatures to get this put on the ballot. I’m pretty sure throwing out 99 other names on the list because one was not real was the right thing to do. Yea right. I thought I signed to get reasonable cannabis reform but in guess they fooled us. Shows that our systems broken. Bought and paid for by corperate. They would sell their grandchildren future it seems.. I have to vote for this crap.. Our officials don’t represent the public.not when most of the public doesn’t vote. Even if we do why would they listen to youcan all see they only listen to those who line their pockets. Outgrow them. Get thrown in jail. I’m tired of these games with peoples lives. Those who effect others including polititions should be tossed away. Millions losing houses and no ones in jail for it. Greedy bullshit . I have to take it there’s nothing else coming down the line with boner in office.

  23. Anon.. You seem to have the outlook of a fox new host. Those damn liberals are killing our country! The thing is you call us beggars but where are you from sounds like the south. Weird how u complain about those who just want to live theiir lives fairly. We want a fair law not one cooked up by money. We all no how the law enforcement is built up into an occupying force of this country bulling the citizens. Those damn republicans in the south only have oil, god, and military as resources. Military build up is the same as the police buildup. Making jobs from thin air..we dont want to point fingers here. Yes you are getting outvoted since there are less people being born into republican households but the public sees corruption and doesn’t want it. That’s why people are for Bernie and trump right now. Stick to the issues.. unless your reaping the rewards too. Buy low sell high = screw your neighbor.

  24. Bogey men are the ones pushing for another war against Iran even though we are broke to prop up the warhawks buddies and republican areas that rely on military for employment.. These issues are linked more than most think.. Its shows what their true intentions are. We are overpopulating before we can creat jobs for them fact. We are being bled out by Sadams old army. The money is disappearing from corruption and reallocation of funds. Thank Reagan for stealing from social security. We have a long way to go to weed out the crown sympathizers and those who have perverted our nations offices. BTW isrealis should be our refugees not a state saved by the united states.. Too expensive for a religious idea. Seperation of church and state anyone?

  25. I’d vote for an Amendment to mandate criminal prosecutions of prohibitionist lawmakers – if it was financed by hemp rope manufacturers…!

    They’ve bullied us into paying for our trillion dollar war, against us; I relish the novelty, that Ohio has come up with.
    I love it.

  26. I’ve seen this sort of thing happen before as stuff became mainstream. In my day FM played youth oriented music with no commercials. Before that, no one listened to FM, which played talk and classical stuff.

    Eventually, the radio stations caught on – FM was sucking the profits from commercially oriented AM radio. Once I heard the first commercial advertisement on FM, I new the 60’s were over.

    Also, I remember when various geeks and nerds developing the early Internet considered it in poor taste indeed to advertise on the Internet. Those days are gone, too.

  27. Any law that write private profit into a states Constitution should be viemently opposed. Im really worried that folks can not see the problem with this. The Responsible Ohio innovative ha nothing to do with cannabis, and everythung to do with how we want to see big business mobe forward in America. Just as licenses are currwntly handed out in many medical states, such goes the way of the future. These laws will only trigger more and more bold moves by the governmtent to isolate heavily backed intrests as the only entities able to profit from new industry. This issue also hits very close to home as I have exetremely sick family in Ohio who are currently relying on black market cannabis for relief. It saddens me to have to oppose this, but i urge you all, please concider voting NO, on the Ohio Legalized monopoly initiative.

  28. If anyone wants to get angry at “investor driven bitter pill to swallow” propaganda, try reading this article by the NYTIMES, a news syndacate that touted ending marijuana prohibition, that denies EVERY post I made referring to marijuana treating PTSD, or any reference to NORML or Dr. Sisley’s FDA trial approved research stemming from the same city of Tuscon where these marines commiting suicide are being written about;

    The article mentions opiate, heroin, tobacco, pain pill and alcohol addiction… But deliberately refuses to mention marijuana! Even while veterans are posting desperate cries for relief from a VA prescribing deadly opiates!!! This kind of “investor driven” propaganda is the kind of evil we need to fight against by informing our Congressman to vote for the CARERS Act and stop the 17 suicides per day. It’s complicit assisted suicide, and the TIMES and every Congressman that voted against our veterans receiving medical marijuana should be ashamed and prosecuted.

  29. And here we see travis, the establishment prohibitionist plant.

    Wake up and smell the freakin’ coffee here. If the legislature can be as underhanded as to quickly pass and put Issue 2 on the ballot when they saw that ResponsibleOhio was actually going to make it to the ballot, then if Issue 3 fails, it gives them basically all the time in the world to craft legislation that blocks any legalization attempt afterward.

  30. I am up in the air on whether or not I want to vote Yes. My reason is because I absolutely 100% believe in across the board cannabis legalization. My main issue with the current wording is not the result of the creation of the drug cartel. The issue to me is that I am only going to be allowed to grow 4 flowering plants at any time. Anything beyond that still commands a criminal penalty. THAT is what chaps my ass the most.

  31. I’m with the anons and other supporters of this initiative here. As AC said above, this is just version 1.0. I remember how for years when we wanted to get a b33r, Rolling Rock was pretty much the only b33r that stood out. Then something happened, and there was an explosion of microbrews on the market. I hadn’t followed the history to know whether that was simply market innovation or if there was some kind of legislative change that enabled me to today choose from around 20 different microbreweries with many different styles each right in my local supermarket.

    I imagine this initiative is similar. Sure, if it passes, for a while Ohio will need to put up with the Budweiser or Pabst Blue Ribbon of cannabis flower (i.e. the self-proclaimed king of cultivars or blue ribbon winning cultivar), denied finer choices in the character of the flavor or high (no fine porters or stouts, no proper ales, nothing experimental, no ciders, etc. to continue the b33r analogy).

    Yet, folks will see that the world hasn’t fallen apart around them because prohibition has ended. It’s just a matter of time before the more exotic cultivars make market.

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