A few days ago radio hosts Bryan Quimby and Brett Pain of the infamous Street Fight Podcast discussed the “Responsible Ohio” initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow adult use cannabis in the Buckeye state. Like many denizens of glorious Ohio, Brett and Brian are obviously happy about possibly having legal access to weed. However these two downloadable luminaries are also part of the growing chorus of Ohioans worried about the prospect of a legal cartel controlling this new (and extremely profitable) industry as it enters the Rust Belt in force.
Local observers in Ohio are wary about the proposal for a variety of reasons, but as the Cleveland Plain Dealer noted earlier this year, much of the concern is based on Ohio’s previous method of legalizing gambling via a similar cartel-centric regulatory system. In their criticism of the proposal, the editorial board specifically condemned the consequences of monopolies in this new area of the economy:
The critical question for both issues is whether the assumption they share – that most Ohioans want to make significant changes in marijuana law – is valid. But even if it is a valid assumption, creating an anticompetitive constitutional monopoly aimed at enriching a tiny number of landowners seems like the exact wrong way to go about any conceivable legalization.
Now, the situation Ohio is unique from other states and cities that are also looking to embrace the uber-regulated cartel model of legalization. As Russ Belville of High Times notes, supporters essentially have a choice between embracing monopoly weed or jail (especially since as the all-Republican state legislature is recalcitrant to make the necessary regulatory changes). But with expanding support for legalization across the political divide, the monopoly/jail dichotomy is increasingly looking like a bullshit argument.
From a legal standpoint, introducing a host of state laws to cover every aspect of the cannabis industry is inherently problematic. Federal preemption still looms like the Sword of Damocles over any positive regulations regarding weed. This is which is why some local governments in California are utilizing “immunity” ordinances, which eliminate police actions against dispensaries that abide by certain conditions. These laws allow municipalities to control the alleged externalities inside of cannabis retail establishments, while avoiding creating an appearance that a city or county is actively subverting federal law.
Laws like Measure D in Los Angeles are not great, but they represent the current public opinion far better than laws creating legal weed cartels, if just because they acknowledge the growing consensus that cannabis doesn’t need to be regulated like Plutonium. Some might see proposals like Responsible Ohio’s as a larger part of the “gradualism” that has served the movement so well in the past, but accepting this argument requires someone to ignore the massive gains cannabis reform has made since 2012.
Once again, the recent political evolution of gay marriage provides a good precedent to what the next step of legal cannabis will look like. As support for marriage equality grew across the country, advocates ditched the compromise positions they had fought for in the bad days of the Clinton and Bush administrations. By 2012, no serious Democrat running a high-profile campaign talked about “civil unions” and today some candidates of both parties are even hesitant to “leave the issue to the states.” As we enter 2016 politicians, have more or less quietly let voters or the courts confirm the emerging consensus that discriminatory marriage laws lack any rational basis.
If centrist politicians are sincere in their desire to see marijuana laws based on a “public health model,” we should call their bluff and seek laws that would regulate cannabis as loosely as possible. As more and more studies support the idea that legalization is a net positive to society, there is no good reason to support unnecessarily complex regulations or monopolies that have the potential to assist corrupt politicians.
One of the benefits of political success means that you don’t have to enter a debate from a comprised position. If the weed industry wants to be taken seriously, they’ll stop acting like it’s still 1996.