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Monday, February 23, 2015

Legalization of Marijuana in Ohio: Fight for Profits

We can never learn too much about controversial issues, especially those that stir our emotions and awaken our bias. It seems the more I read about the attempts to legalize marijuana in Ohio, the more I feel I need to consider the logic and the motives behind the proposition. What seems to be a humanitarian move may be much, much more.

ResponsibleOhio's amendment to the Ohio Constitution would legalize pot for medical use (with proper certification by the person's doctor) and personal use in amounts of an ounce or less by people 21 and over.

The most controversial aspect of the ResponsibleOhio amendment is that it tightly regulates who can grow and sell marijuana, as well as conduct research on it, and hands over the keys to 10 Marijuana Growth, Cultivation and Extraction facilities across the state to wealthy investors.

ResponsibleOhio just recently released the names of key investors. The investors, along with other supporters, are members of the investment groups that will own and operate the 10 marijuana grow sites to be specified in the group's proposed constitutional amendment.

While Ian James, ResponsibleOhio's executive director, said in a press release, "The campaign is honored to have such well-respected businesswomen and men, as well as patient advocates supporting our effort to offer a common-sense solution to Ohio's failed drug policies," I wonder what part huge profits play in the mix.

The ResponsibleOhio plan would create a system where marijuana would be grown at only 10 locations and then sold to manufacturers to turn into candies and other products or consumers at retail shops and medical dispensaries. The proposal does not change Ohio's laws against individuals growing marijuana, either for sale or personal use, which marijuana advocates have criticized.

Here is a list of 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
ResponsibleOhio's scheme would tax marijuana at 15 percent from grower to manufacturer to retail store, with revenues funding public services in counties, townships and municipalities.

All five elected constitutional officers including Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, and Treasurer Josh Mandel have opposed the plan, which they said would wrongly grant a constitutional monopoly on the marijuana industry in Ohio. And, of course, ResponsibleOhio has pushed back on these claims, noting the system allows thousands of entrepreneurs to manufacture marijuana products or sell the drug in stores and medical dispensaries.

ResponsibleOhio has yet to submit the actual language of its proposed constitutional amendment to the attorney general. Once the ballot language is cleared, the group will have until July 1 to collect more than 305,591 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters to put the issue on the November ballot.

At least three other plans are in the works to legalize marijuana use that do not limit where cannabis can be grown.

(Jackie Borchardt. "Ohio marijuana legalization investors include Frostee Rucker,
Oscar Robertson." January 30, 2015)

A leader in opposing efforts by ResponsibleOhio and a supporter of a competing amendment effort is Don Wirtshafter, an Athens area lawyer who has been involved in national cannabis legalization efforts for 40 years. He serves on the five-member committee representing petitioners for the Ohio Cannabis Right Amendment, which is already circulating petitions for a vote next November.

Although Wirtshafter has made it clear that he's not an official spokesperson for the Ohio Rights Group, he, when asked about James' plan, responded: "If ResponsibleOhio's amendment gets on the ballot, I would feel a responsibility to campaign against it, strongly. Nothing in it is geared toward what I would like to see in a reform of our laws. This is going in the wrong direction, locking up the plant rather than setting it free. We're trying to free the plant; they're trying to make it expensive."

James, asked about critics of ResponsibleOhio's planned petition drive, said: "What Don Wirtshafter wants is for hundreds of thousands of people across the state to grow (marijuana), unregulated. With it impossible to regulate, and without the funding to regulate it, Ohio will become the wild west of weed. Ohio voters flat out do not support that."

The proposed amendment by ResponsibleOhio lists 10 counties where "growing sites" for marijuana would be located. The counties are Butler, Clermont and Hamilton (all in the Cincinnati metro area), Licking and Franklin counties (Columbus metro area), Lucas (Toledo), Summit (Akron), Stark (Canton), Montgomery (Dayton-Springfield) and Lorain (Cleveland metro area).

Four other our proposed research sites -- called Marijuana Testing, Research and Development Facilities -- would be located in Lorain, Mahoning, Scioto and Wood counties -- all of which have colleges or universities -- in order, Oberlin, Youngstown State, Shawnee State and Bowling Green State University.

James noted having a Testing, Research and Development facility means the sites will be getting "white lab coat" jobs to test potency, chemical compounds of marijuana grown in the state of Ohio, as well as providing necessary research and development on strains of plants, and medical uses derived from the strains.

And, under the proposal, the Testing Facilities could "own and operate their own retail stores and manufacturing facilities as well as work within the emerging post-prohibition marijuana industry created by this Amendment."

Finally, James made the pitch that taxes generated from marijuana sales will be distributed back to each county, along with municipalities and townships, on a per capita basis. "That's new money for roads, bridges, economic development as well as safety services - all paid for through tight regulation and taxation of marijuana in a post-prohibition Ohio."

On the other hand, Wirtshafter explained that the Ohio Rights Group is focused on medical marijuana because "we think it's important to set down the rights of medical patients before those motivate for the big bucks come in with monopoly moves and roll over those people who need the herb for medicine."

"This is why the ORG petition all of a sudden is looking really good," he continued. "Medical initiatives are getting passé to the funders of these initiatives. But a real medical initiative to oppose the ResponsibleOhio publicity machine makes a lot of sense."

He repeatedly condemned the ResonsibleOhio amendment as something that's bad for the state and marijuana reform. "I think it's extremely divisive and clearly a monopoly power grab… It's exactly the opposite of what I want. The whole idea - calling these 'investors' - putting up something and placing it in the Ohio Constitution is repugnant to me."

(Terry Smith. "Pot players have Athens roots." The Athens News. February 11, 2015)

My Take

Legalization of marijuana in Ohio? Different motives for consumption, for growth, and for huge profits are pushing proponents in many directions. Make no mistake no matter the direction of any group supporting legalization, their self-interest is full of dollar signs and speculation of control. It is so with any consumable substance in America.

My guess is that the rich will get richer while the poor will remain exploited, no matter the outcome of the frenzied efforts to legalize weed. It is unfortunate because some real medical advantage may be buried deep in an amendment. Yet, the public pays exorbitant prices for drugs now, and why should anyone needing the possible medicinal benefits of cannabis expect anything new? Money and greed are part of the equation for any pain-relieving substance.

The cries of growing marijuana in the name of freedom and liberty are old, old battle cries of those who really just want to get high. In the recent drive for support of legislation, marijuana legalization is being touted as being so beneficial for health and for economic reasons when, in truth, most proponents merely want to employ a vehicle of pleasure and escape without being arrested or fined.

Let's be brutally realistic. Who will be spending all the money to indulge? My guess is mainly those who can ill afford the habit. Why? Profiteers care little about the true costs to the society or the true costs to the poor people who seek escape. The weed is a cash crop backed by wealthy individuals looking for more fortune. Whether the FDA, the state government, legalization groups, or private investors control the market, no one really expects great advantage for those who may need medical help -- any such help will come with a large price tag.

In the world of democratic pain killers, more is the key word. Damn it, people everywhere in Ohio are smoking pot now with very little risk. Here is Ohio law:

Possession of up to 100 grams (or up to five grams hashish) -- Ohio has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Violations are considered minor misdemeanors, which incur a $150 fine but no jail time, and do not become part of the defendant’s criminal record

Cultivation and sale of up to 20 grams without payment -- Like possession of small amounts of marijuana, Ohio has decriminalized giving someone up to 20 grams of marijuana. Violations are considered minor misdemeanors, which incur a $150 fine but no jail time, and do not become part of the defendant’s criminal record.

Trafficking of up to 200 grams (or up to ten grams hashish) -- Penalties include a fine of up to $2,500, up to one year in jail, or both.

Thinking about all of the fallout from any state legalization, perhaps it would be better to forget about passing any bill in the State of Ohio and waiting on Federal legislation that would allow medicinal manufacture in all fifty of the United States. Those who want to smoke to get high are doing it now, and maybe now they are doing so cheaper than with proposed legislation. Meanwhile, lots of people here in Ohio are busy blowing cannabis smoke up voters' asses. Be careful not to get the fabled "contact buzz" in the fog.

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