Ohio is often cited as one of the next states most likely to legalize marijuana. With a majority of Ohio residents supporting legalization of recreational marijuana (52% favor | 44% oppose), it seems almost a foregone conclusion that Ohio will have some form of legalized cannabis this year or 2016. The same Quinnipiac Poll that showed 52% of Ohioans favor legalizing recreational marijuana also showed the Buckeye State with overwhelming support for medical marijuana (84% favor | 15% oppose).
So getting marijuana legalized in Ohio seems just a matter of putting the measure before the Ohio voters. The problem that’s becoming apparent is that there are different groups with conflicting goals. The one that has been getting the most coverage and one that, arguably, stand the highest chance of getting on the ballot is “ResponsibleOhio“.
Backed by a group investors who have endowed it with a $40 million war chest, Responsible Ohio has been moving quickly to collect the signatures necessary to get their measure on the ballot for 2015.
The “centerpiece” of ResponsibleOhio’s plan is to have 10 marijuana grow sites which would supply the entire marijuana industry in Ohio. These 10 sites would be owned by the investor groups that include some high profile names:
ResponsibleOhio 11 Key Investors:
- Oscar “The Big O” Robertson, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member, played for the Cincinnati Royals
- Frostee Rucker, defensive end for the Arizona Cardinals, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns
- Nanette Lepore, fashion designer born in Youngstown
- Rick Kirk, Columbus-area real estate developer
- Frank Wood, CEO of Secret Communications, a radio company turned venture capital firm
- Barbara Gould, Cincinnati philanthropist
- Sir Alan Mooney, an investor and board member of the Ohio Council of Churches
- William Foster, entrepreneur and philanthropist
- William “Cheney” Pruett, president and CEO of DMP Investments, which specializes in providing products and consultative services in the area of consumer finance
- John Humphrey, Chief Financial Officer of DMP Investments
- Bobby George, real estate developer
The issue of asking the voters of Ohio to give them (the investor group), what is effectively exclusive commercial rights to grow and sell marijuana at the wholesale level, has, predictably, created controversy and criticism from some cannabis advocates. ResponsibleOhio has countered by noting “the system allows thousands of entrepreneurs to manufacture marijuana products or sell the drug in stores and medical dispensaries”. Without knowing full details of their plans, it is hard to say whether same things couldn’t be achieved without limiting who can commercially supply Ohio marijuana-based businesses. Other states such as Colorado seems to have a fairly vibrant marijuana industry without such tight private control of the plant.
The ResponsibleOhio investors have risked a lot of money to work toward the common goal of marijuana legalization and deserve a return on their money; whether having exclusive commercial grow rights for the entire state of Ohio is excessive return for the $40 million invested will be for Ohio voters to decide.
A Competing Marijuana Initiative Gaining Traction
Ohio residents may soon have another choice in deciding how the marijuana industry will operate in their state. Ohio group “Ohioans To End Prohibition (OTEP)” are on a signature drive with their own initiative, which they hope to get on the ballot for 2016. The notable distinguishing feature is the level of competition OTEP frees up at the wholesale level by allowing more people to grow commercially.
It remains to be seen how far Ohio’s new marijuana initiative goes and whether it can sustain the drive to gather the necessary signatures.
Their OTEP website lays out in detail their vision of legal marijuana in Ohio: Legalizeohio2016.org
Marijuana Initiatives That Grant Exclusive Commercial Rights To Investors By Law A Dangerous Trend?
Legalization efforts take money. With things like lobbying, advertising, public relations, logistics, and supplies, the amount of funds to get a marijuana initiative on a state’s ballot is not an insignificant amount that can quickly runs into millions. And part of the money required will always come from “donations” by people who are commercially motivated; that’s just how the whole “donation” system works in our country and cannabis is no exception.
The ResponsibleOhio marijuana initiative has garnered a great deal of media coverage for the amount of money raised and famous “investors” involved. All good things for the overall legalization movement. But is the move to try to get exclusive commercial grow rights for an entire state by outspending any other competing initiative starting a dangerous trend? One in which the remaining states are seen by the same or other investor groups as being ripe for similar strategies.
If the ResponsibleOhio initiative passes and the investors are, by law, granted exclusive commercial grow rights to Ohio, the return on the original $40 million will likely rival returns from the best venture capital firms. And more importantly, it will show that it can be done by “investing” in the legalization initiative. Would that bring big multinational firms with unlimited budgets to gain exclusive commercial rights to all the states? And once achieved, is there even a remote chance that they will give up such power?
Won’t we then be exactly where President Obama warned about when he expressed concerns about multinational companies trying to control the marijuana trade?
Marijuana legalization overall is the goal. Some are incremental steps toward that goal. Some could potentially be an entirely different road from which we can never turn back. Only time will tell which road Ohio is on with their competing marijuana legalization initiatives.