It's now less than three weeks until Buckeye State voters head to the polls in an off-year election, and they make make Ohio the first Midwestern state to legalize marijuana. A poll this week that asked specifically if respondents supported the initiative on the ballot had 56% saying yes.
[image:1 align:right]They will be voting on Issue 3, a controversial proposal sponsored by ResponsibleOhio that would legalize both medical and recreational marijuana use, cultivation, and distribution. The measure would establish a 10-grower "monopoly" on commercial marijuana production (but not sales) and allow individuals to grow up to four plants for personal use if they pay a $50 license fee and if they keep the plants hidden from public view.
But despite the favorable poll numbers -- even better than the 53% approval of a generic marijuana legalization question in a poll two weeks ago -- victory is by no means a sure thing. It is an off-year election with traditionally low voter turnout among groups likely to be supportive, the effort is opposed by the state's political establishment, and even if it wins, it could be tangled up in court for years because that GOP establishment has placed an initiative on the ballot, Issue 2, specifically designed to invalidate Issue 3. That initiative would bar Issue 3 from taking effect, as a constitutional "monopoly," and would put similar questions on the ballot when other monopoly or oligopoly measures appear in the future.
If both initiatives pass, state officials say Issue 2 will supersede Issue 3, but other legal experts say it's not so clear, especially if the legalization initiative wins more votes than the anti-monopoly initiative, which the new poll suggests it could If both pass, legalization will, at best, be delayed until the mess is sorted out in the courts.
With the exception of NORML, national drug reform groups have kept their distance. The NORML board of directors endorsed Issue 3 last month, but neither the Marijuana Policy Project nor the Drug Policy Alliance, both of which endorse marijuana legalization in general, have made much noise about this initiative.
[image:2 align:right]When it comes to in-state endorsements, ResponsibleOhio looks pretty isolated, with support from the Ohio ACLU, some UFCW locals, and a handful of elected officials, while those taking a stand against the measure include the state Green, Libertarian, and Republican parties, business groups, medical groups, law enforcement groups, children's advocates, and many state political figures, including Republican Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine.
The initiative has also infuriated many Ohio marijuana activists, who see their years of work going up in smoke in the face of well-heeled investors in ResponsibleOhio, who have generally had little to do with marijuana reform, but who know a money-making opportunity when they see one. By buying into the campaign, those investors have secured their positions controlling the ten designated commercial grows.
"We don't support the ResponsibleOhio initiative because we don't believe it achieves the goals of legalization, said Sri Kavuru, president of Ohioans to End Prohibition (OTEP), which is campaigning to get its own initiative on the 2016 ballot. "I testified in favor of the anti-monopoly amendment, and I believe it will pass and get more votes than ResponsibleOhio," he told the Chronicle in August.
"It is very interesting that all these different parties have come together with the same purpose in mind, to stop the hijacking of our constitution by private interests," Weaver said. "It's very strange indeed, but the collaboration of different groups for a mutually beneficial and moral purpose, I think, is a good thing."
It's also caused a split in Ohio NORML, with the state group throwing out its former leader, Rob Ryan, over his position in support of the initiative.
But the state's largest pro-medical marijuana organization, the Ohio Patients Group, endorsed Issue 3 this week. The group said that, given the lack of a viable alternative and the legislature's refusal to advance the cause, telling its members to vote against the initiative would be doing them a disservice.
"It wasn't a perfect plan, but politics is never the art of the perfect, it's the art of possible," Pardee said.
[image:3 align:left caption:true]But when you've got money, you don't need that many friends. In a neat political and financial move, ResponsibleOhio and its chairman, Ian James, are using those investor dollars to finance their campaign advertising. The group has spent $3.1 million so far on TV ads, and has millions more where that came from to get them through the election.
The first ad, "Bring Addy Home," which began airing in late August, features Heather Benton, who moved to Colorado in order to obtain medical marijuana to treat her four-year-old daughter's seizures.
"We want to move back to Ohio, but we can't because her medicine is illegal there," says the exiled Benton. "It is time for marijuana reform. It is time to go home."
One of the latest ads takes on the charge from opponents that the initiative would create a monopoly in the state's Constitution. (Voters did something quite similar back in 2009, when they approved a constitutional initiative allowing a strictly limited number of casinos.). This initiative isn't a monopoly, the ad argues.
"Like most states that legalized marijuana, it initially limits the number of growers with strict regulation," a woman says in the ad. "That's a regulated industry without creating a monopoly."
Can ResponsibleOhio pull it off? We won't know until the votes are counted, but if marijuana legalization wins in swing-state Ohio in 2015, that could take the politics of legalization to a whole new level in front of the 2016 general election, where the issue is already likely to be on the ballot in several states -- Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada -- and maybe more.
There's a legalization rally in Trenton tomorrow, ASA has a new report on the impact of dispensaries, Mexico cartel violence flares at a Pacific port, Australia okays medical marijuana, and more.
[image:1 align:right]Marijuana Policy
Legalization Rally in New Jersey Tomorrow. Hundreds of legalization supporters will gather in Trenton Saturday to call for an end to marijuana prohibition in the Garden State. The rally begins at city hall at 2:00pm, then marches to the state capitol for a 3:00pm rally. The rally is sponsored by the East Coast Cannabis Coalition and a variety of local reform groups.
ASA Releases Report on Impact on Dispensaries on Communities. Americans for Safe Access has released a report, Where Will Patients Obtain Their Medicine?, that shows dispensaries do not bring elevated crime rates or other social ills, but do bring economic opportunity and provide access to medicine for patients. "The research shows that well-regulated dispensaries are responsible neighbors and valued members of the community," said Steph Sherer, ASA's executive director. "They bring jobs and increased economic activity while providing patients suffering from serious illnesses with an essential physician-recommended medicine. Creating equitable rules for medical cannabis access is a win-win scenario for everyone in a community."
New Psychoactive Substances
Federal Crackdown on New Synthetic Drugs Winds Down. A year-long operation by the DEA and other federal agencies aimed at cracking down on makers and sellers of new psychoactive substances ended yesterday. The feds bragged of arresting 151 people in 16 states, as well as seizing more than $15 million in cash and other assets in the operation, code-named Project Synergy.
Pennsylvania Poll Finds Strong Backing for Asset Forfeiture Reforms. A new poll sponsored by the asset forfeiture reform group Fix Forfeiture found that only one out of four Pennsylvanians had ever heard of asset forfeiture, but once they found out what it was, they didn't like it. Nearly four out of five (79%) said they supported reforms once they understood what asset forfeiture was. "It was really stunning to see how broad the support for reform is," said Jim Hobart, pollster for Public Opinion Strategies. "We don't get this type of bipartisan support on any issue these days." The poll comes as the legislature ponders a reform bill, Senate Bill 869, and its House companion bill, HB 508. The bill will have a hearing next week.
Australia to Legalize Medical Marijuana. The federal government has announced it will legalize the cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes, but state governments will be able to opt out. Health Minister Susan Ley said the government wants to provide access to medical marijuana for people suffering from debilitating illnesses. "I have heard stories of patients who have resorted to illegal methods of obtaining cannabis and I have felt for them, because with a terminal condition, the most important thing is quality of life and relief of pain," she said. "And we know that many people are calling out for medicinal cannabis. It is important therefore that we recognize those calls for help, that we put in place what we know will support a safe, legal and sustainable supply of a product."
Mexican Cartels Fight It Out Over Control of Pacific Port. The death toll is rising in Colima state as the Sinaloa Cartel, the Knights Templar, and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel wage a three-sided war for control of the port of Manzanillo. At least 30 people are believed to have been killed in gangland slayings in the state since June, many of them showing signs of torture or, in some cases, dismemberment.
No pot tourism district for Portland, at least for now; New Jersey gets a fifth dispensary, Croatia legalizes medical marijuana, Afghan opium production fell by nearly half last year, and more.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Portland City Council Rejects Marijuana "Green Light District." The city council has rejected a proposal to create a concentration of marijuana businesses in a downtown "Green Light District" as a bid to attract cannabis tourists and to keep shops out of residential areas. The city currently requires a 1,000-foot buffer between pot shops, and the failed move would have lifted that requirement. Mayor Charlie Hales said the measure could be brought up again later.
New Jersey Gets Fifth Dispensary Today. The state Health Department said Wednesday it had issued its final permit for Breakwater Treatment and Wellness, a dispensary in Cranston. It opened today.
Michigan Appeals Court Throws Out Car Seizure for $20 Worth of Weed. The state Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court decision saying that police in Westland were justified in seizing a woman's vehicle after she was busted with a gram of weed while doing pizza deliveries -- but not because the seizure was on outrage on its face. Instead the court held that because the marijuana was an unanticipated tip from a customer, the car should not have been seized because she hadn't used it with the intent of purchasing drugs. Click on the link for more.
UNODC Reports Big Drop in Afghan Opium Production. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported Wednesday that Afghan opium production last year declined by nearly half (48%), from 6,400 metric tons to 3,300 metric tons. The decline is the first after years of steady increases in poppy cultivation, and UNODC said it resulted from better cooperation between police and Afghan policymakers, a smaller area under cultivation, and lower yields.
Peru's Air Force Accused of Turning Blind Eye to Cocaine Flights. The Peruvian defense minister announced Wednesday that he would investigate allegations of corruption in the military after the Associated Press reported days earlier that cocaine flights were taking off unimpeded in an "air bridge" to Bolivia that moves a ton of cocaine a day. The air bridge is from the VRAEM -- the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers -- in south-central Peru, now the country's leading coca and cocaine producing area. The Peruvian government in August approved shooting down suspected drug planes.
Croatia Approves Medical Marijuana. The Croatian government has approved the use of medical marijuana for people suffering from multiple sclerosis, cancer, epilepsy, and AIDS. The marijuana will be distributed through pharmaceutical companies, and patients will be limited to 0.75 grams of pure THC per month. Home cultivation will not be allowed.