Ohio to vote on marijuana legalization

Here are the next states to legalize pot
Here are the next states to legalize pot

Ohio residents are going to vote on marijuana legalization Tuesday, but it's very different from pot votes in other states.

This is the first time that voters will decide whether to approve recreational and medical marijuana at the same time, without approving medical first and voting on recreational later.

Issue 3 is the ballot item asking voters to legalize marijuana. But there's another ballot item, called Issue 2, asking voters not to approve Issue 3.

That is why ResponsibleOhio, the organization that put Issue 3 on the ballot, is asking voters to "make sure to vote No on 2 and Yes on 3 on Tuesday."

Still, the vote is controversial for an entirely other reason.

Legalization votes are generally a no-brainer for people who support legalizing marijuana.

Residents would be able to grow their own four plants for personal consumption. But Issue 3 would allow commercial marijuana cultivation on only 10 farms. The plots for cultivation are specifically identified in the ballot item by exact location and acreage. These plots are owned by the investors who backed Issue 3.

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"The motivation of the people behind it are making enemies of the supporters," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the pro-legalization organization NORML.

St. Pierre said that NORML supports the passage of Issue 3, because his organization is anti-prohibition. But he said that Issue 3 has "perverted the very base" of legalization, which is supposed to benefit users of marijuana. He said the 10-farm system is "limiting production," which does not benefit the consumer.

Adam Orens, managing director for the Marijuana Policy Group, said the lack of grower competition "taints" the legalization vote.

"I think if I was an Ohio voter I'd wait for a better piece of legislation to legalize it a better way," said Orens, who is based in Colorado.

ResponsibleOhio spokeswoman Faith Oltman said there are 25 investors backing the ballot who would benefit if it passes through their ties to the farms. She said that Nick Lachey, veteran of the 1990s boy band 98 Degrees, is part of an investment group that has an option to buy the land if Issue 3 passes.

She said other prominent investors include former NFL player Frostee Rucker, former NBA player Oscar "Big O" Robertson, fashion designer Nanette Lepore and also Woody Taft and Dudley Taft Jr., great-great grandnephews of former President Taft.

She said that dispensaries are expected to be operated within a year and the state has the power to expand the number of growers.

NORML said that recent polls show that Ohio residents are divided in their opinion of Issue 3, but they support Issue 2, the counter-measure placed on the ballot of state legislators.

According to NORML, if voters approve Issues 2 and 3, the courts will probably decide which issue takes precedence.

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"I don't know if there's any precedent for this, where you have one ballot initiative that negates another and then you're cruising towards litigation," said Orens.

If approved, Ohio would be the fifth state to legalize recreational marijuana, after Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Washington, D.C. has also approved it.

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and D.C., according to NORML.

Legalization is a growing movement in the U.S., but only among states and the occasional city. The federal government has not made any significant changes to its long-running prohibition on marijuana.

Next year, voters are expected to vote on legalization in Nevada, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, California and possibly Michigan.

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