By Laura Bischoff
COLUMBUS - The campaigns for and against legalizing marijuana traded jabs for more than an hour Wednesday before the Columbus Metropolitan Club in what is likely the last major debate before voters decide state Issues 2 and 3 next week.
Issue 3 is a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use by adults, allow limited home growing of pot and name 10 parcels as the only sites where marijuana can be grown for commercial purposes. It is backed by ResponsibleOhio, a group of investors that control the 10 parcels and have spent more than $15 million on the campaign and petition drive.
Issue 2 is a proposed constitutional amendment rushed to the ballot by the Ohio General Assembly in June to block Issue 3 from taking effect, even if it passes, and to prevent future groups from using the ballot process to install monopolies or special tax rates in the Ohio Constitution for their own profit.
If both issues pass, it’ll likely be up to the courts to decide which prevails.
The debate in Columbus featured key players in the marijuana matter:
- ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James, the political mastermind behind Issue 3;
- Attorney Chris Stock, who wrote the amendment for ResponsibleOhio;
- Attorney Elizabeth Smith, a public law expert; and
- State Rep. Mike Curtin, D-Marble Cliff, former Columbus Dispatch editor, author of the Ohio Politics Almanac and author of Issue 2.
James and Stock argued that state lawmakers have ignored previous attempts to pass medical marijuana bills so now it’s time for voters to decide and that Issue 3 would regulate and tax what is now sold on the black market.
Curtin and Smith charged that Issue 3 is a business scheme to enrich 10 investor groups that are bankrolling the campaign, that Ohio will be inundated with pot shops, and that the state constitution will be permanently polluted.
“If Ohio approves Issue 3, we would go from zero to 100 in 10 seconds. We would catapult Ohio to the absolute bleeding edge of experimentation, with marijuana being available in every neighborhood of our state,” Curtin said. “This is a profit maximization plan designed to sell as much marijuana as possible to as many people as possible, 24/7 all over the state.”
Stock said marijuana is already sold across Ohio and the nation. “We decided to take a public policy look at this and figure out, OK, what are the harms that marijuana does and if the harms are not commensurate with the costs, let’s figure out a way to regulate this, to tax it, to legalize it so that we can bring revenue into our state and distribute that revenue to the state. That’s what this is about.”
James also defended the structure in which the 10 investor groups backing the campaign will control the manufacturing of marijuana. He said the multiple media markets in Ohio make it expensive to run a statewide campaign on any issue. “Ultimately, someone does have to pay for the amendment,” he said.
James also took a shot at Issue 2, saying it will make it more difficult for citizens to bring forward initiatives. “What Mr. Curtin has done with Issue 2 is to make it even more expensive, taking away your right to vote on issues, to give more power to the politicians, and make it more costly than ever to put an issue on the ballot,” James said.
Curtin responded that Issue 3 allows 10 landowners and their co-investors to install a permanent monopoly in the state constitution.
“The state marijuana control commission could only issue an 11th, 12th, 13th license beyond these 10 if it could prove that these 10 are not meeting the demand in regular supply-demand audits. These guys have formed an amendment to give themselves a monopoly in perpetuity. They wrote the rules. They’re controlling the marijuana control commission, not vice versa,” Curtin said.