Next, Pot’s Going to Be Legal in...Ohio?!

Yep, deep purple, ridiculously normal Ohio is about to make weed legal. But the state is doing it in the worst possible way.

11.02.15 6:00 AM ET

Come Nov. 3, I will be enthusiastically voting in Ohio for Issue 3, a ballot initiative that will make recreational marijuana use legal in the Buckeye State. Issue 3 is in many ways an absolutely flawed piece of legislation--so much so, in fact, that many of its harshest critics are people who believe in legalization.

But let’s be clear about the stakes here: Any law that makes pot legal is preferable to a status quo that empowers the police to arrest 700,000 people a year (almost all for simple possession) and that underwrites black-market violence around a substance nearly half of American adults have used.

Before we get to why some pro-pot people are dissing Issue 3, take a few moments to chill and hold this thought in your head like you would a long, smooth bong hit in your lungs: Ohio is the ultimate embodiment of mythical “middle America” and a state that once plastered “the Heart of It All” on its license plates. It’s poised to become just the fifth state to legalize weed--before liberal blue states like California, Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, and perhaps most importantly, before its dark twin in college sports and economic dissipation, Michigan. Given its paradigmatic normalcy, Ohio can be the place where the drug war—or at least the war on pot—finally goes to die.

And it may well happen. According to the most recent Kent State poll registered voters, fully 58 percent of registered voters support allowing Ohioans to “legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.” If that percentage sounds familiar, that’s because it precisely matches the national percentage supporting pot legalization in the latest Gallup survey on the topic.

Issue 3 would allow adults over 21 years old to buy and carry up to an ounce of marijuana and, if they got a permit (likened to a fishing license in voter-education materials), to grow up to eight ounces of weed for personal use.

The traditional foes of pot legalization—such as Republican Gov. John Kasich, various police groups and unions, and education organizations—are against legalization under any circumstances for all the tired and falsified reasons: Pot is a gateway drug, it’s more dangerous than alcohol, ad nauseum (for a fact-based debunking of every anti-pot canard ever, I recommend my magazine’s website’s archive on marijuana).

So what’s the beef of the pro-legalizers? The controversy stems from Issue 3’s creation of 10 “Marijuana Growth, Cultivation and Extraction” (MGCE) facilities or growing zones. These would have a monopoly on commercial production within Ohio and the investors in the MCGEs are also the people promoting and paying for the Issue 3 campaign. The initiative precludes collusion among the commercial investors (who include figures ranging from singer Nick Lachey to basketball great Oscar Robertson) and also nixes any kind of vertical integration with the up to 1,100 retail stores that could be licensed to sell weed. As it does with liquor stores, the state government will limit the number of pot shops based on a county’s or city’s population.

“It’s disgusting to me,” the head of the pro-legalization group Ohioans to End Prohibition told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “The idea that any group or corporation has the exclusive right to grow marijuana and sell it. It’s not plutonium. It’s an agricultural commodity that should be regulated like one.”

As a libertarian, I totally agree with that sentiment and would prefer a true open market in pot. However, at the same time, there are political realities and social dynamics to consider. As Ian James, the director of Responsible Ohio, the group organizing the campaign for Issue 3, told NPR, “We are Ohio, folks. We’re not a blue state or a red state. We’re a very purple, middle-of-the-road state.... And that requires that you have a middle-of-the-road approach that doesn’t always sit well with the right and it doesn’t always sit well with the left.”

Allowing 10 entrants into a market is hardly the textbook definition of “monopoly,” especially when home growing is a legal alternative. More to the point, perhaps, limits on growing options can always be changed. It seems to me that the best course of action is to legalize now and reform later aspects of the law that don’t work or offend for other reasons.

I haven’t smoked pot in years and don’t plan to if—when—it becomes legal in Ohio. I want to see it legalized because I believe we have the right to ingest the intoxicants of our choice and that it’s settled that any serious social problems associated with marijuana stem from its black-market status, not its unique chemistry. Pragmatically, legalizing pot would be great for Ohio in terms of tax revenue and increasing individual freedom, just like it’s been in Colorado. It would even give a state that’s long been in the economic doldrums some energy and excitement.

And Issue 3 also provides Ohio a chance to be on the cutting edge of a mind-blowing legal issue. That Kent State poll that found that 58 percent of Ohioans favor pot legalization also found that 56 percent of registered voters plan on voting yes on Issue 3. At the same time, however, 54 percent also plan on voting for Issue 2, an initiative placed on the ballot by the legislature to invalidate Issue 3. Issue 2 specifically invalidates any constitutional amendment that gives the state the right to grant any “monopoly, duopoly, or cartel” to an industry.

So come Nov. 4, Ohio voters may have elected both to legalize pot and to invalidate that law at the same time. That outcome will land in the state Supreme Court and certainly set legal precedent. And in possibly reflecting the ambivalence of voters who want to end the pot prohibition but have lingering reservations, Ohio may indeed be the perfect incarnation of today’s America.