With the 2015 election day only two weeks away, and prodded by our friend Russ Belville at 420 Radio for failing to more enthusiastically embrace Issue 3 in Ohio, this seemed like a good time to take a second look at the measure on the ballot in Ohio to both legalize marijuana for medical purposes and fully legalize marijuana for all adults.
First, one might justifiably ask the authors of this measure why they would bother with medical marijuana at all. If marijuana is legal for all adults, that includes patients as well as recreational users, and it removes the need for patients to pay a physician to confirm their need for marijuana. With the exception of a small medical use program that would cover those minors who have a legitimate medical need, there is no need for two separate legalization distribution systems.
But having somewhat duplicative legalization systems, while it may not be efficient, is not a reason to oppose Initiative 3.
Provisions Limiting Access to the New Market Are Not New
The reason given by most who claim to support legalization, but who oppose the Ohio proposal, is the reality that the investors who have put up millions of dollars to qualify the initiative for the November ballot also stand to profit handsomely from their investment, by controlling the 10 commercial cultivation centers allowed under this plan. It strikes many of us as inappropriate to build such an economic advantage by a few rich investors into the state’s constitution.
But as Belville and others (including this author) have noted, several other states that have legalized marijuana (for medical use) have limited entry into the legal industry by placing severe limits on the numbers of licenses that will be permitted, or by requiring such enormous financial investments that ordinary citizens are effectively shut out of the industry. So limiting access to the commercial cultivation centers in the newly legal market would be nothing new, nor should it justify opposing this opportunity to end marijuana prohibition in Ohio. We should focus on ending prohibition, and not get distracted by who will profit from the legal market.
Why NORML Supported I-502
In his latest rant, Belville questions why NORML and other pro-legalization organizations would endorse I-502 in Washington state in 2012, which failed to legalize personal cultivation, and included a 5 nanogram per se DUID provision that would leave many smokers unfairly subject to a DUID charge, but would either remain neutral on Issue 3 in Ohio (MPP, ASA and DPA) or tepidly endorse the proposal (NORML).
The answer to this question is simple: In 2012 marijuana for personal use was illegal in all 50 states, and had been for more than 75 years. It was crucial that some state – any state – show the courage to break the mold and openly defy federal law, as New York and a handful of other states did near the end of alcohol prohibition. For the legalization movement to gain credibility and force our way onto the mainstream political agenda, we had to take legalization out of the theoretical realm and demonstrate that it actually works.
Our opponents had always claimed that if we legalize marijuana, the sky would fall. Everyone would sit home and get stoned all day; no one would go to work or live an ordinary life; and western civilization as we know it would come to an end (perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the point).
Of course, we would counter that legalization would stop the senseless arrest and prosecution of otherwise law-abiding citizens who smoke marijuana responsibly, and save enormous amounts of law enforcement resources that could be redirected to fighting serious and violent crime.
But until we had at least one state with the fortitude to declare itself out of the prohibition game, we had no actual data to validate either position. It was an endless theoretical argument, with no clear winner.
The approval of legalization in Washington and Colorado in 2012, by giving us these two state laboratories where we could measure the actual impact of legalization, was the game changer that catapulted full legalization into the mainstream political debate, and gave us the measurable evidence that legalization is indeed the solution that most Americans are looking for. And the fears that were stoked by our opponents – of a spike in adolescent marijuana smoking, or carnage on the roads caused by stoned drivers – simply did not materialize. In fact, just the opposite. Adolescent use is slightly down in the legalization states, and there has been no increase in DUID cases.
We gave our strong support to I-502 in Washington (as well as A-64 in Colorado) even with its limitations, because of the crucial need to demonstrate that a majority of the voters in a state would support full legalization, and that legalization actually works on the ground, with few, if any, unintended consequences. Those first two victories made it possible for our subsequent victories in Alaska and Oregon in 2014, and hopefully many more to follow.
There. Now I have said it, clearly and unequivocally. Issue 3 in Ohio should be endorsed by all who favor legalization, even with its imperfections. As the NORML board of directors concluded when we endorsed the Ohio proposal, unless the current proposal in Ohio is approved, it will likely be five years or more (perhaps far longer) before marijuana will be legalized in Ohio. Under their current laws, roughly 12,000 Ohioans are arrested on marijuana charges each year. Does anyone really believe we should sit by waiting for a more acceptable version of legalization to magically appear, while another 60,000 to 100,000 smokers are arrested in Ohio?
In addition, just as the victories in Washington and Colorado were especially significant because they were the first, and opened the door for serious consideration in additional states, it would be an enormous step forward politically to adopt full legalization in Ohio — a large, conservative midwestern state. And it would suddenly put full legalization on the table for serious consideration by many other similarly situated states.
Its time to legalize in Ohio.